“When I became Register of Wills, I was determined to re-shape the culture of my office to align with my values as a lifelong Howard Countian and as a progressive Democrat. The culture in every workplace is shaped by its leadership and the vision and policies they implement. I made my vision clear: to ensure that every husband, wife, son, daughter, partner, relative, and friend who calls my office or comes through our door is treated with dignity and respect.
A few weeks into my term, I observed one of my staff members talking with a woman whose husband had just passed away. The woman was told that we could not open an estate for her husband. I asked to speak with my staff member privately. I asked why she wasn’t able to help the woman at her desk. She told me that she couldn’t open an estate because the woman’s husband was not a United States citizen, rather he was a citizen of Hungary. Now, the only legal requirement for us to open an estate for someone who has passed away is that they were domiciled here, meaning they simply lived here. After speaking with several of my staff members, all of whom I inherited from my Republican predecessor, I discovered that it was standing office policy to refuse to open estates for Howard County residents who were not U.S. citizens. I was stunned. I asked the staff to show me where in Maryland law this prohibition or rule existed. They search through books and notes to find something to justify this policy only to come up empty-handed. It was clear to me that this policy, whether born out of ignorance or prejudice, was simply invented out of thin air by my predecessor and had been dutifully followed by the staff for many years. I instructed my employee to open the estate for the woman at her desk and allow her to move forward with seeing to her husband’s affairs. While I was relieved I was able to intervene and see that this grieving widow received the help she needed, I couldn’t help but wonder just how many Howard County families had been turned away over the years. We’ll never know how many people were left to fend for themselves because my predecessor simply made up an ignorant and prejudiced rule without any regard for the impact it would have on people’s lives. However, I ended this unconscionable policy and as long as I’m Register will ensure that in my office, every Howard County resident, regardless of immigration or citizenship status, is treated equally under the law.
This was one of the first of nearly 200 office policies and procedures I have changed since taking office. I share it as an example of why the right leadership and the right values matter in this role. I hope in the years ahead to continue to foster a culture of service and equality to everyone my office serves.”
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