There have been 21 registers of wills in Montgomery County since 1777, when the first one was elected. Joseph M. Griffin, the incumbent, is trying to keep that number the same for four more years.
Griffin, 48, of Prince Henry Court in Olney, is serving his fourth term as the county’s register and is running for re-election next year.
As register of wills, Griffin oversees the estates of people who die in Montgomery County — whether they have a will or not — to make sure their estates are executed properly and estate taxes are paid, he said.
His office also holds money in trust for minors if a person leaves them money, he said.
The job sometimes involves thorny legal battles between grieving family members. In one recent case, he had to mediate between children who wanted to exhume their mother’s body to see if she had been buried wearing a family necklace.
“That was a terrible family problem,” he said.
In most situations, he tries to mediate disputes in the will. Sometimes, that involves setting up a court hearing. Other times, the dispute stems from older, deeper family issues, he said.
In those cases, he said, “I try and have them come in, sit down, and talk about not wasting all the estate’s money in court, and [say], ‘Let’s try and settle this.’”
Every year, his office handles 3,600 to 3,700 wills of people who have died. The office also maintains about 30,000 wills people have given to the county for safekeeping.
Griffin, a Democrat, has held one fundraiser so far, with other members of the courthouse ticket, which includes State’s Attorney John McCarthy, Sheriff Darren M. Popkin and Barbara H. Meiklejohn, who is running for clerk of circuit court. They’re all Democrats.
Griffin expects to raise about $10,000 during his election campaign, he said.
Griffin was the only candidate who had filed for register of wills as of Tuesday.
Beyond the day-to-day operations of his job, he has been trying to find a way to plan for the future.
Griffin said the number of people in Montgomery County older than 65 is expected to grow significantly in the next 10 years. “The volume of work going through [the register of will’s office] is just going to explode,” he said.
State projections show that Montgomery County’s 65-plus population will grow from about 144,000 to more than 205,000 from 2015 to 2025.
That will present technical and logistical challenges for his 40-person office.
At the state level, Maryland will face similar problems, he said; in Annapolis, archives for registers of wills have run out of space.
Griffin is working with other officials countywide to archive wills digitally, he said. That presents other problems, though, such as how to post wills online in accordance with transparency laws, without revealing personal information that could lead to fraud and scams against the survivors.
Griffin came to the Office of the Register of Wills in 1993, after working as a loan mortgage officer at Chevy Chase Bank, he said.
Griffin also works as a youth group leader at his church, St. Peter’s in Olney, and runs a charity he started 10 years ago: Got Your Backpack, which donates backpacks filled with food, blankets, toiletries and other items to local homeless shelters.
He has three children — Patrick, 17, Michael, 14, and Grace, 11 — and is divorced.
The salary for register of wills is $98,500 a year, according to Christine Feldmann, a spokeswoman for Maryland’s Office of the Comptroller, which oversees the office of the register of wills.
Politically involved and a devoted numbers cruncher, he said the job lets him work at the intersection of law and accounting.
“I’m surprised I enjoy this as much as I do,” he said.
He added that if he ever ran for another office, it would be something such as state comptroller.
“I like running a business,” he said. “If I sat on a panel, on a council, or a committee in Annapolis, I’d go crazy.”