Do I Need to Hire a Probate Attorney, or Can I Do It Myself?

Hiring a probate attorney

Probate administration can be daunting, especially when you are coping with the loss of a loved one and the resulting changes in your life. The first call to a probate attorney is never easy, nor is thinking about the probate process. A question we sometimes hear from people during this time is whether they need to hire a probate attorney, if they can navigate the process on their own, or if they can skip the process all together.

Understanding the Probate Process

Probate is the legal process of administering the estate of a deceased person, ensuring that their assets are distributed according to their will or the state laws if there is no will. This process can take as little as a few months if there are limited assets and no property, or more than a year if there are complexities or disputes arise.

The probate administration process typically involves:

  • Filing the Will: Locating and submitting the will to the court, if there is one.
  • Appointment of Executor or Fiduciary: The court appoints someone to oversee the estate and carry out the decedent’s wishes based on appointment in the will or application of qualified fiduciary through a hearing if there is no will.
  • Identifying and Valuing Assets: Determining the value of the assets, including property, bank accounts, and investments accounts.
  • Paying Debts and Taxes: Settling any outstanding debts and taxes owed by the estate.
  • Distributing Assets: Distributing the remaining assets to the heirs or beneficiaries.

You can read more details about probate administration here.

Factors to Consider

When deciding whether you should hire a probate attorney, you should consider the following:

  1. Complexity of the Estate:

    Pro Se Representation: If the estate is small, straightforward, and there are no disputes among heirs, handling probate without an attorney may be feasible. This is called pro se, and many people chose this route to save attorney’s fees if the estate has minimal assets.

    Attorney Representation: For more complex estates, if property is involved, if there are business interests, or potential legal issues or family disputes, hiring an experienced attorney is highly advisable.

  2. Financial Assets:

    Pro Se Representation: In Connecticut, if the decedent’s solely owned assets include no real property, and are valued at less than $40,000 then this is known as a “Small Estate.” These classifications of estates require less paperwork and are often probated faster than Full Estates.

    Attorney Representation: If property was solely or partially owned by the decent, if they had multiple investment accounts, various life insurance policies, or potential unknown creditors, hiring an attorney to take on the tasks related to determining the assets and completing the Inventory and CT-706 Form can save you countless hours and the risk of breach of fiduciary duty.

  3. Understanding of Legal Procedures:

    Pro Se Representation: Individuals with a legal or financial background or experience in estate matters may feel more confident navigating probate independently. If you were involved in the estate planning process of the decedent, you may feel more confident as you are familiar with their wishes.

    Attorney Representation: If you’re unfamiliar with legal processes, financial accountings, or estate plan documents and prefer to protect yourself from potential claims, having an attorney can ensure all necessary steps are followed correctly and reduce the potential for error or delay.

  4. Family Dynamics:

    Pro Se Representation: Amicable families with open communication may find it easier to handle probate without external assistance.

    Attorney Representation: If there is any potential dispute among family members, attorney representation for the Fiduciary, and even beneficiaries, is highly advisable. The Fiduciary, whether Executor or Administrator, is responsible for the accurate and lawful administration of the estate.

  5. Time and Energy:

    Pro Se Representation: Managing probate can be time-consuming over multiple months to years, requiring attention to detail and frequent court appearances. Having the time to complete forms, speak with financial institutions and appear in court will be required of the Fiduciary.

    Attorney Representation: Hiring an attorney can alleviate some of the burden, allowing you to focus on grieving and other personal matters that may need to be attended to. While you will need to be in communication with your attorney, many of the tasks associated with contacting financial institutions, completing probate forms, and communicating with heirs or beneficiaries will be the responsibility of your attorney.

  6. Litigation:

    If there is a concern of potential litigation or dispute you should seek representation as soon as possible. Unfortunately, some fiduciaries attempt to manage a contested will themselves and realize the need for experienced representation after a court decree has been issued against their interest. At this point, you will face an uphill battle and possible probate appeal in the Superior Court. In probate court, there is often a maximum of 30 days to appeal a decree, and having an attorney familiar with the estate can help ensure deadlines are met.

While some individuals may successfully navigate the probate process without legal assistance, many find that the expertise of a probate attorney is invaluable, particularly in cases involving contested wills and the possibility of litigation. The decision ultimately depends on the unique circumstances of the estate and the comfort level of those involved. A free consultation with a probate attorney at Doyon & White Law Group can provide insight on what lies ahead for you in the probate administration process.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this blog is for general informational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice. Reading this blog does not create an attorney-client relationship with Doyon & White Law Group, PLLC or its attorneys. We make no warranties regarding the accuracy or completeness of the information. Any reliance on the content is at your own risk. For specific legal advice tailored to your situation, please consult with a qualified attorney. Doyon & White Law Group, PLLC and its authors are not liable for any damages or losses resulting from the use of this information.

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What is Probate Administration?

Probate Administration is the legal process that occurs when someone passes away. It involves validating the will, if there is one, paying off creditors, and

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Linda Baker

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Linda is the seasoned probate paralegal working together with clients helping them through probate administration following the loss of a loved one. Joining the team in 2023, she has brought 25+ years of legal experience to the firm with extensive proficiency in all administrative tasks, Probate Court knowledge, complex document preparation, and case management. Linda works exceedingly well the court’s staff and cultivates close relationships with new and existing clientele.

Linda is a long-time resident of the area and loves going for walks on the beach before work. She enjoys spending time with her husband, Ken, and their three grown children. She enjoys road trips, is an avid reader, collector of sea glass and is an amateur artist. 

Ashley Davis

Ashley Davis paralegal Doyon & White Law Group

Ashley is the paralegal working directly with our attorneys and our clients. The attorneys at Doyon & White are grateful that our clients feel comfortable reaching out to Ashley for status updates or quick questions when the attorneys are unavailable. Ashley has a background in customer service with 10 years in the hotel industry and enjoys the client relation aspect of her job the most. Ashley is intimately familiar with the details of our client’s cases, processes and reviews all medical records, and communicates with attorneys and insurance adjusters.

Ashley moved to Branford, Conn from Northern California in 2018 and hasn’t looked back since. She enjoys the four seasons New England offers by playing golf and tennis in the summer and looks forward to snow days and skiing in the winter.

Trevor Doyon, Esq.

attorney Trevor Doyon Doyon & White Law Group

Attorney Doyon was born and raised in the hills of Northwest Connecticut. Trevor began his legal career serving as the clerk for several Superior Court Judges, many of whom are now members of the Connecticut Supreme and Appellate Courts.

Before forming Doyon & White Law Group, Trevor was the Managing Partner of a successful mid-size law-firm’s Litigation Department.  Trevor has favorably authored and argued hundreds of motions and hearings in every Judicial District of Connecticut, in addition to winning numerous contested arbitrations and jury trial verdicts. Attorney Doyon is known and respected for his determined approach to unique and difficult legal issues by clients and judges alike.

Trevor has been honored as a Super Lawyer’s Rising Star for 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022, a selection made by colleagues and peers and reserved for less than five percent of lawyers in Connecticut. Attorney Doyon has also been nominated to the “National Trial Lawyer’s Top 100” list, was recognized by the American Institute for Lawyers as “Top 10 for Client Satisfaction,” and has been a featured guest speaker at Yale University’s Trial Law Camp.

When he’s not in Court, Trevor enjoys spending time with his wife Becky, their two daughters and their Great Dane “Gronk,” in addition to supporting anything UConn sports and coaching Connecticut’s only national level Sled Hockey team.

Patrick White, Esq.

Attorney Patrick White Doyon & White Law Group

Attorney White was born and raised in New Haven, Connecticut. After graduation from Fordham University, he worked in commercial finance in New York City before attending Quinnipiac University School of Law. Upon graduation he served as a clerk in the Superior Court in both the criminal and civil divisions.

Prior to forming Doyon & White Law Group, Attorney White practiced at a mid-size firm in Hamden, Connecticut where he mainly handled criminal defense, habeas cases, and civil litigation matters. Attorney White’s experience arguing before jury trials and court trials has led to winning favorable results for his clients on many occasions. Attorney White’s civil litigation experience includes personal injury representation, business litigation, and insurance coverage disputes.

Attorney White is a thoughtful and diligent advocate for all his clients and is respected for the rapport he builds and compassion he conveys.

Attorney White is a member of the New Haven County Bar Association and previously served as the President of the New Haven Young Lawyers Association.

Still a proud New Haven resident, Attorney White enjoys spending time in the city with his wife Sara, their two young children, and their pit bull, Ghost. He’s an avid UConn basketball fan and New York Yankees fan.