In the administration of probate estates, there are multiple people that take an interest in the outcome. Somebody will seek to become the Personal Representative of the estate. This is often a person that will take from the estate. There may be other heirs or beneficiaries. Creditors want to ensure the money owed to them is paid from the estate. Minor children of the person that has passed on need protection. The more heirs, beneficiaries, creditors, and such that are involved, the greater likelihood of conflict.
Many tasks in probate court can be accomplished without the use of an attorney. Self-help is a cost saver in the short-term. However, the filings and deadlines in probate court can be confusing. With this is the risk that the administration is not done properly. This might mean that assets never get distributed or liability exposure for improper administration. This can be a significant expense. On top of that is the lengthy and time-consuming nature of probate. You will spend time learning the rules and making filings that can be used elsewhere.
Once all of these moving parts are better understood, you might begin to see why working with a probate attorney is efficient. It is an equation that involves the value of your time, your family relationships, risk tolerance, and what you expect to inherit and the importance of protecting it, against the cost of a probate lawyer.
Many of the calls I receive are from actual or proposed Personal Representatives. Individuals want help with their tasks from the outset frequently. Others have reached a point where they can no longer handle the duties on their own. The problem I see in helping clients in the middle of the process is that we often need to go back and correct work. Sometimes this takes longer and costs more money than it would have to do it properly the first time. It can also make accurate record keeping difficult.
Another issue that I see regularly is that someone has underestimated the role that creditors and family dynamics play. While the Personal Representative controls the process to some degree, all interested parties have the opportunity to be heard. Failure to get the parties on the same page and working toward a common goal can lead to hearings that cost everybody.
It is a good idea to talk with a probate lawyer early on. Usually, there is no charge to talk and determine what you are facing and how the representation can be structured. A lot depends on your experience and the complexity of your case. In any event, this conversation gives you the tools to make an informed decision.