If you are the only beneficiary, then it may be tempting to try probate on your own. There is no one else's interests to consider except your own. There is also no one else to share in the cost of the attorney fee. It is all coming out of your own pocket. If there are five beneficiaries, then 80% of the attorney fee is paid by someone else.
Can you do the leg work?
The probate process can be somewhat involved, if you have never handled an estate before. If you have the ability and the desire to research the process and the patience to deal with unhelpful probate personnel, (who are unable to advise you or assist you with filling out the forms, by State law), to make several trips to the court and to wait to file documents and meet with the appropriate court personnel, then it is certainly possible to administer an estate on your own. There are lots of websites that have information on probate and there is other information available online, as well. The best site for finding common approved probate forms is:
Can you handle the follow up work or find someone else to do this?
There are other things that need to be done as part of the probate process, often including the transfer of assets out of the decedent's name, as well as preparing tax returns, and dealing with creditors.
It is possible to hire an attorney simply to prepare deeds for a relatively nominal charge, for example. If there ARE deeds involved, it is probably in your interest to make sure that the deeds are prepared correctly. Failure to do so could result in thousands of dollars of damages, down the road.
You can hire CPAs to do the taxes. You can hire financial advisors to deal with investments.
Part of the issue, however, is knowing what you need to do, and when it needs to be done. You need to make sure that you do your homework.
You also need to be very organized, keep great records, and be able to document everything that you have done, in the event that you are ever called upon to do so, by the court or the beneficiaries.
Final considerations - Situations where you should not or cannot act without an attorney
Where there ARE other beneficiaries, you can be held personally liable for errors in the administration. If there are any issues or potential issues that you see with ANY of the other beneficiaries, then I would strongly suggest that it is worth investing in a qualified probate attorney. If there is a Will contest, then you will not be able to represent yourself. The same is true if the estate is involved in any other kind of litigation, whether it is a wrongful death claim or the estate is sued by a creditor.
Handling the administration on your own can save you several thousand dollars in attorney fees. You just need to make sure that the savings are not offset by the cost of cleaning up an administration that goes bad. In a case I am working on now, the assets of the estate were never conveyed to the beneficiaries. So we are forced to duplicate much of the prior expense and administration to finish off what easily could have been done before.
Additional resources provided by the author
We have a detailed description of the probate process posted on our website. Feel free to post or email any additional questions you may have.