This question is at the heart of our service, put another way: Can I probate any legal service like a will by myself online?
The simple answer is yes, maybe and depends. I’m not trying to to be coy, rather I want to show you that it is not a simple answer. Anyone can interact with the court system, you do not need a lawyer to do so. BUT there are times where a lawyer is absolutely necessary, doesn’t matter the type of conflict you are in, and an attorney is the one who can fight to resolve which ever problem it is. There are bankruptcy lawyers for your economics, corporate and estate law attorneys, DUI and criminal attorney, a divorce lawyer to help you with all the legal process regarding prenup papers and childcare support, and many specializations that can benefit you depending in your situation to evaluate the findings, and develop new strategies and arguments for the case.
To answer the question, “Do I need an attorney to probate a will” thoroughly let’s go over the general steps of the probate process and discuss when an attorney is necessary.
The Probate Process
1) Petition the court to be the estate representative
The court will require the petitioner (person asking the court to appoint an official representative) to fill out specific forms. These forms can (with the help of EZ-Probate) be filled out by you. It will be the basic Who, What, When, Where etc. types of questions.
What you will need: A valid will, a copy of a will, or know for sure there is no will.
When would you need an attorney: In this part (filling out the court form) there probably is no need unless you don’t understand what the will is instructing the executor to do.
2) Notify heirs and creditors
The court will provide you forms to fill out to notify heirs (listed in a will, or if no will state law dictates who the heirs are). Additionally the representative is also responsible to find out what debts the deceased had and devise a plan to pay those debts. Remember, only assets that pass through probate are liable to pay debts. Learn which assets pass through probate here.
What you will need: a clear understanding of who the heirs are (will or state succession laws), and a reasonable attempt to uncover debts.
When would you need an attorney: If you don’t understand the will or need help determining who the heirs are. Note that all states post the “succession laws” and you can google them by searching: (state) succession law, or (state) intestate succession.
3) Change legal ownership of assets
This may be the most straightforward part. With the court appointment, you will now be able to change assets owned by deceased to the “estate of…”
What you will need: Court appointment and knowledge of what the deceased owned.
When you would need an attorney: There may be assets that have complicated ownership, businesses, royalties, mineral rights etc.. If you are unsure how to transfer ownership, then an attorney is needed. For most common assets (bank accounts, investments, property) you will be able to do it yourself.
4) Pay Funeral Expenses, Taxes, Debts and Transfer assets to heirs
Note the order that you will need to prioritize payments. The court places priority on payment of funeral, taxes and debts before any payments to heirs.
What you will need: A good accounting of all assets, debts and likely tax liability. The executor is responsible (personally) to ensure that all attempts are made to pay funeral expenses and taxes.
When would you need a probate disputes attorney: If you don’t have enough money to pay for all of the estate expenses, particularly the taxes. I would STRONGLY advise seeking counsel if the estate is insolvent (more debts than assets).