Probating an estate is one of life’s duties for many of us. At some point, you may be called upon to handle a loved-one’s estate. It just happens. Whether being named as “Executor” in a Last Will, or stepping forward to act as “Administrator” where no Last Will was prepared, the “Personal Representative” will be required to carry out the administration of the deceased’s estate, and will bear responsibility for his or her decisions by the beneficiaries, and, ultimately, by the courts.
An Attorney is Not Required, But…
No, the Personal Representative is not required to have an attorney to guide them through probating an estate. In fact, there are very few instances in life where the hiring of an attorney is required. A person can even defend himself or herself from murder charges, without counsel. It may not be wise, but an attorney is not required.
What is the Value?
In probate, one thought quickly makes itself known: hiring an attorney will mean less money for the beneficiaries. In fact, hiring anyone, an accountant, appraiser…anyone, will mean less money for the beneficiaries. The question for the Personal Representative should then become one of value. What value will hiring a professional bring to the probate of the estate? Reaching the right answer will require mature reflection.
The Value of Legal Counsel in Probating an Estate
Some years ago, a Personal Representative told me that she did not need an attorney to help with her father’s estate. You see, she had a MBA degree. What she did not think about was that her MBA classes did not teach her probate law and procedures. Granted, she was good at collecting information about asset values and debts, could examine and pay bills efficiently, and could draft a great accounting. When it came time to distribute inheritance money however, she never had the beneficiaries release her from liability and agree to pay back some of their inheritance if something had to be paid later. She also didn’t know that she had to present an accounting to the Attorney General because her father left a percentage of his estate to a charity. As a result, later, money had to come back from the beneficiaries, who, of course, refused to pay it. Unfortunately, this Personal Representative found the value of a law degree the hard way. It was a costly mistake.
You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know
Hiring an attorney to assist with probate could be a decision that helps the Personal Representative efficiently manage and administer the estate, avoiding costly mistakes, and time delaying remedies. After all, you don’t know what you don’t know. There is an entire body of law on Probate. An attorney can bring service, certainty and sanity. These bring value to the estate, over and over. My advice? See an attorney for at least an hour at the start of your duties. Find out what you don’t know, and if you will need help.