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Do I Need an Attorney to Settle an Estate at Death?

Do I Need an Attorney to Settle an Estate at Death?


  • The family situation is uncomplicated (never divorced or re-married,  few beneficiaries who are competent adults)
  • And… everyone gets along
  • And… the assets of the estate are straightforward (accounts are consolidated, there are no tax-deferred assets to sort out and no estate tax considerations)
  • And… all assets have beneficiary(ies) designated who are living. . 

PROBABLY NOT IF… preplanning was done to make sure the decedent’s assets pass to a living beneficiary without probate. 

Why does it Matter?

If the decedent has done NO planning or just minimal planning (will only) then the estate will most likely go to Probate Court. The job of the Probate Court then is to decide who the rightful heirs are to make sure the decedent’s bills are paid. 

There are many reasons to avoid probate in Ohio (and you can):

    • Navigating the probate process can be frustrating! Without an experienced estate planning or elder law attorney, you are expected to know how to marshal the assets,  create an inventory, notify potential heirs, complete court paperwork, etc., etc. Most “civilians” don’t have this expertise and some counties require you to use an attorney for estates above a certain value.
    • Mistakes can be costly! You are expected to meet court deadlines that can be very strict. Your records are inspected by the court so they have to be detailed and accurate. You must keep track of market values, gains, losses, dividends, and interest payment for investments. You must be careful not to distribute assets before all debts are paid. If you mis-step, you could be held personally liable.
    • Probate takes time! Although  Court appearances may be minimal,   each County has its own local rules of Court that dictate everything from filing procedure to font and format that must be followed or you can be held in contempt.
    • Your family may be unhappy! Most people have little understanding of the complexity and time-consuming nature of the Probate process. Your family may not be as understanding as you would like about waiting for the Court to get their expected distribution. They may also not understand the costs incurred that will reduce their expected distribution.
    • You are help responsible! Without an attorney representing you to the Court, the Court looks to you to fulfill their requirements. Without an attorney as a buffer, your family will expect you to keep them informed, get their distributions out quickly and not bother them with the woes of a prolonged probate.

BUT YOU DON’T HAVE TO GO TO PROBATE IF YOU PLAN AHEAD! We often say “Probate is something you do to yourself”. What we mean is that you can completing skip probate if you do the proper pre-planning. The extent of pre-planning depends on the specific circumstances, and, of course, you must pre-plan before you pass away. Find out more about what this means to you by attending one of our free, educational seminars.