BERLIN – With Charlotte Cathell stepping away after 18 years, there will be a new face at the helm of Worcester County’s Office of the Register of Wills next year.
Next Tuesday’s election will decide who Cathell’s successor will be. For Cathell, her endorsement goes to Terri Westcott, who has worked under her as chief deputy for the last 18 years.
In September of 2017, Cathell announced she would be stepping down and immediately endorsed Westcott for the post in an interview.
“Terri has been my right hand for over 18 years and not only has a full understanding of the integral work in the opening and administrating an estate, she also has the compassion needed to help families in one of the most emotional times of their lives,” Cathell said. “This ability to empathetically help anyone who has lost a loved one is just as important as having the knowledge in assisting people with complying with Maryland law. … Terri will be able to step into the job of register from day one. She has the total understanding and experience in every phase of the operation of the register’s office. This is why I wholeheartedly endorse Terri – she understands what must be done as well as how it should be done.”
Westcott was successful in the June primary, winning 57 percent of the Republican vote over Aaron Redden, 23 percent, and Steven Sisk, 20 percent.
Opposing Westcott is Democrat Nicole Caudell, who was unopposed in her party’s primary. Originally from upstate New York, Caudell graduated from Temple University and is a former special education teacher overseas. Caudell has worked as a criminal clerk in the Worcester County Circuit Court since 2005.
The Register of Wills office handles administrative duties dealing with estates and heirs for Worcester County residents, including collecting inheritance tax. The office appoints representatives to ensure a deceased person’s property passes to others as outlined in legal paperwork. The register of wills also serves as the clerk to the Orphans’ Court.
Both Westcott and Caudell participated this week in a brief question-and-session with The Dispatch in advance of Tuesday’s election.
What makes you the better candidate to become the next Register of Wills for Worcester County? Please be as specific as possible referencing your personal and professional background.
Westcott: Experience. I have over 30 years of experience in estate work. As a legal secretary for 14 years, I prepared wills, powers-of-attorney, deeds and assisted the attorney and personal representatives with the documents necessary in opening and administering estates.
As the Chief Deputy Register of Wills for over 18 years, I possess the experience and legal knowledge in the everyday operation of the office. Sitting on the MD Register of Wills (ROW) Association’s Technical Committee for 17 years, I have assisted in the development and improvement of the automated systems for all of the MD ROW offices. From the first day I started work, I have assisted in the opening and overseeing of the administration of hundreds of estates.
This is often a very overwhelming and emotional time for persons needing our services. It takes someone who knows how to open an estate while also being compassionate, patient, and understanding. Maryland law prevents the Register from giving legal advice. Therefore, having a good background in the law is necessary when guiding people through the process.
I possess all of these qualities and find it a privilege and honor to help the citizens at this time in their lives.
Caudell: A natural leader, I am a very analytical and detail-oriented person with the flexibility to creatively think outside of the box. I believe further digitization is the way forward to provide efficient service to taxpayers and advance the purview of Register of Wills.
In my present state position of 13 years, I daily interface with a Court Management System that processes cases electronically. This insight equips me with the skills to envision the future for Register of Wills and the curiosity to seek how services are rendered across counties and assess what improvements would benefit Worcester County.
As a compassionate professional, I understand face-to-face contact is essential when dealing with loss in anticipated and sometimes unexpected circumstances. Personally, I’ve navigated such legal challenges while grieving.
My secondary and collegiate education prepared me to be a critical thinker, problem solver and mediator. I am a graduate of the George School, a Quaker boarding school in Bucks County, Pa. There, I played varsity sports and was a team captain.
At Temple University, I was a Golden Key Scholar and honed the technical expertise and political savvy to run my legit campaign for Register of Wills.
If elected, what specific plans do you have for your first year upon taking over the Register’s office?
Westcott: In what continues as a statewide effort, I will work with the ROW Technical Committee and all of the Maryland Registers in getting legislation passed to allow for electronic filing of estates (e-filing). We continue to work in making the estate process more “user-friendly” for all citizens including those with special needs and non-English speaking citizens.
I will continue the community outreach programs that the current register, Charlotte Cathell, has enthusiastically provided. These programs are beneficial in informing the citizens of Worcester County the importance of having a “will,” some basic and useful steps you can take in estate planning, how to access the Maryland Register of Wills website (wwwregisters.maryland.gov), and a thorough explanation of the services provided by the ROW office.
The Register of Wills does not set policy or procedure. Policy and procedure are set by the state of Maryland. I will continue to provide the same courteous, compassionate, and competent service for which our office is known.
Caudell: Trust, tech and time comprise my three-pronged platform, which integrates remote and user-friendly technologies such as ordering or filling out documents online to increase efficiency and accessibility.
Online and in-house, I plan to promote service messaging about free attorneys.
Community outreach to educate taxpayers and inter-agency collaboration can facilitate probate and estate planning fluency, with a bilingual component for ESL speakers.
Appointed Personal Representatives are not always local, so I plan to implement video conferencing as it could be cost-effective.
As notices of assignment are often misplaced, I think the state should investigate sending these notices via text/email if viable.
Long term, the state should consider increasing term limits to 6-8 years with staggered elections for Orphans’ Court Judges for continuity of service and institutional knowledge on the bench. It is critical to transition Register of Wills fully into the digital age to offer taxpayers more options to safeguard the decedent’s last wishes and assure heirs’ entitlements, which take on a dire urgency during the national opioid crisis.
It is imperative community outreach is increased as 60% of Americans do not have wills, according to AARP.
For more information, go to www.nicole4shore.com