Can a Non-Lawyer Bring a Will to Probate Court?

By A.L. Kennedy

Probate is the process of ensuring a will's validity and carrying out the instructions it contains. The probate process is overseen by a probate court, but the actual work on the estate is typically done by the estate's executor or personal representative. A non-lawyer may file a will to open the probate estate and may serve as executor.

Probate is the process of ensuring a will's validity and carrying out the instructions it contains. The probate process is overseen by a probate court, but the actual work on the estate is typically done by the estate's executor or personal representative. A non-lawyer may file a will to open the probate estate and may serve as executor.

Filing the Will to Begin Probate

A non-lawyer may bring a will to court to begin the probate process. After the testator -- the person who made the will -- dies, the will needs to be filed with the probate court in the county or city where the testator passed away. Most states allow any person who has the will to bring it to the probate court for filing. If the person named in the will as executor or personal representative files the will, she can seek to be officially appointed as executor at the same time.

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Executor Duties

The person officially named as executor of the will has a number of duties. These include making an inventory of the estate, paying the estate's bills, managing the estate's assets -- liquidating them, if necessary -- and ensuring that the beneficiaries listed in the will get the assets the will leaves them. Although these duties can be carried out by a non-lawyer, many non-lawyer executors find it helpful to consult an attorney, especially if the estate is large or is too small to pay its bills.

Working With the Probate Court

The executor or personal administrator has a duty to work with the probate court, including meeting all court deadlines and showing up for all hearings the court holds regarding the will. A Probate courts are generally prepared to work with non-lawyers, and may be able to offer instructional materials to make the process easier. The executor may also hire an attorney to represent the estate in probate court, if necessary. Usually, such attorneys are paid an amount set by law that comes out of the estate's assets.

Will Contests

Once the will is brought to and filed with the probate court, the beneficiaries listed in the will and the people who would take the estate by law if no will existed have the choice whether or not to file a will contest. A will contest is a lawsuit that challenges whether the will is legal. A non-lawyer serving as executor may defend the will himself in court, or he may hire an attorney at the estate's expense to do so. Because will contests can involve complicated questions of capacity, fraud and forgery, an attorney may be particularly helpful in such cases.

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Legal Responsibility of Executors of a Will

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Can Executors of Estates Get Paid?

When a testator draws up a will, she usually names an executor who is responsible for carrying out the will's instructions. When there is no will, the court will appoint a person for the same task, known as a personal representative or administrator. This can be a complex and difficult task since the executor must abide by the law, follow the terms of the will and deal with any controversies among beneficiaries. However, under most circumstances, an executor is entitled to compensation for the service he provides.

Can You Contest a Will After Probate?

The probate process officially recognizes the will as valid. It also allows the executor to follow the will's instructions under the supervision of the probate court. When probate begins, so does the window of time in which beneficiaries can contest a will. Once probate is over, the estate no longer exists and the will cannot be challenged.

What to Expect From the Executor of the Will After Someone Dies?

The executor or personal representative of a will is responsible for wrapping up the estate's affairs according to the will's instructions. After someone dies, the executor becomes responsible for the estate, and usually must report to the probate court. You can expect the executor to file the will with the court, manage the estate's assets, pay the estate's bills and distribute the remaining estate assets to the beneficiaries.

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