SO wants to Probate his dad's will on his own, how hard is it?
July 23, 2015 2:11 PM   Subscribe

His dad passed away suddenly 2 weeks ago, it's been an extremely difficult time and he and his sisters just want to get through his financial things and move on. They feel uneasy about paying such high fees for a lawyer to probate it and are looking into doing it themselves, is this a smart move?

The details:

-He rented, did not own, as well used a company truck, did not belong to him
-No debts other then utility bills
-He named my partner and his two sisters as executors of his will, as well everything he had is split three ways among them.
-Between RRSPs and savings looks to have around $900,000

We have looked into the process of doing the probate ourselves, lots of time and paper work it looks like, just wondering if anyone here has done it themselves successfully or is it smarter just to go through a lawyer? He hates the idea of a lawyer getting a chuck of his dad's hard earned money but I wonder if it's a better route to go to make sure everything is done correctly?

Any advice would be appreciated, TIA!
posted by bluehermit to Work & Money (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
$300,000.00 and smooth relationships with siblings are at stake. If splitting the cost of the lawyer's probate isn't on the table, imagine how smooth the process of splitting up the estate will be. Find out the cost of a lawyer.
posted by oceanjesse at 2:24 PM on July 23, 2015 [12 favorites]

Distaste of paying lawyers needs to be weighed against the chance of doing something wrong and subsequent expense and delay. An estate lawyer near your SO's father will (or damn-well should) know the ins-and-outs of the local probate court. That can be worth a lot. At least get some prices from lawyers so that you know what you're trading off against.
posted by dws at 2:30 PM on July 23, 2015 [4 favorites]

Just to give you some ballpark, if it's an easy will and the siblings are all in agreement, getting a lawyer to do just the basic stuff should only run you a few thousand dollars, possibly less and then things will be managed by a third party and 100% legal. It also means that someone who is not a beneficiary is handling the tricky questions and this is often well worth the money paid for it. If you had said this was a $30,000 estate I would have suggested to do it yourself. At that level you may be looking at tax concerns as well as other things and I'd really go lawyer with this.
posted by jessamyn at 2:33 PM on July 23, 2015 [9 favorites]

He really needs to at least consult a probate attorney. Both my mom and dad passed away without a will, and I did my dad's probate myself - but only after I got explicit instructions about how to go about it, and my dad's assets are less than $2,000 in total.

With the amount of money at stake here, your SO may have no choice but to hire a lawyer and go through the probate process with representation. With my mom, we had a lawyer for Probate, and the legal fees were charged to the Estate, *not* to me. I didn't have to pay out of pocket for anything.
posted by spinifex23 at 2:35 PM on July 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

You can negotiate probate lawyer fees and with so much in assets, I think it's worth splitting the cost 3 ways.
posted by quince at 2:42 PM on July 23, 2015

Since you mention RRSP, you're in Canada -- this means that if only children are inheriting, everything is treated as a deemed disposition and taxed as if it were sold when he died, and you'll need to do a 2015 tax return, with RRSP amounts treated as income and other things treated as capital gains or whatever they are. (I'm assuming none of the children have disabilities or are under 18.)

It's almost certainly going to be necessary to speak to an accountant to do this stuff, and they might be able to suggest if this is something that would require having it probated by a lawyer instead of by the family.
posted by jeather at 2:42 PM on July 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

I should add that with both of my parents, I was in the US, in the State of WI.
posted by spinifex23 at 2:46 PM on July 23, 2015

It sounds like a simple situation despite the dollar amount involved. Having witnessed the impressive ability of an estate lawyer to worsen a smallish estate situation and get paid for it, I support doing it yourself if you're comfortable with paperwork, deadlines and asking questions. I'd still talk through it with a lawyer and then proceed on your own if you're still comfortable. Avoid anyone who has a standard package for this kind of thing or is handwavey.

The percentage that's in RRSPs with proper beneficiary percentage makes a difference because the more money that's directly transferred through beneficiary contracts (pretty easy to process), the less an error or delay in probate can affect you.
posted by michaelh at 2:46 PM on July 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Having witnessed the impressive ability of an estate lawyer to worsen a smallish estate situation and get paid for it

I've witnessed the same thing; if you do go with a lawyer, make sure you get a solid recommendation from someone you trust.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 2:49 PM on July 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

Yes, lawyers are expensive -- but no lawyers are often more expensive. And you will need an accountant.

So, no. Mom and I did Dad's estate in 2013 (an entangled nightmare that still has some stuff I never figured out) and it cost a bomb of money, but I cannot imagine doing that myself. Find an affordable (small practice) lawyer who you trust and bite the bullet.
posted by jrochest at 4:26 PM on July 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

You need a lawyer and an accountant who are both well-versed in estate law. If everything is as simple as you say in the will, this will probably cost a few thousand dollars (disclaimer: I am in the US and not familiar with Canadian law, but uncomplicated wills are usually very straightforward).

That said, ask around for recommendations, and don't be shy about getting consultations from multiple professionals. You want someone who will do this correctly, and in my opinion it's worth the cost, if only for the peace of mind that you're not running afoul of any tax authorities.
posted by bedhead at 6:09 PM on July 23, 2015

I'm sorry for your loss; I just lost my dad last fall. He didn't have much, which meant we didn't really have to deal with much in the way of property. What I realize very keenly, right now, is that sure, everybody seems to be willing to be sane about everything in this particular moment? But every moment is its own moment. This isn't just about whether you'll be able to split things three ways, but also just stuff like whether anybody's going to get too emotional to handle the practical things that need handling. I wish we'd been able to afford an attorney. It would have been nice to have someone involved in the whole thing who didn't have a personal stake.
posted by Sequence at 6:11 PM on July 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've seen this devolve in to a freaking nightmare with BOTH of my parents estates. I'm 99% sure a lawyer wasn't involved either time, and the executor just tried to do what you're doing.

There's currently an ongoing fight that's about to involve lawyers over one sibling trying to keep a "fee" for staying in the house and dealing with stuff from everyones share. A rather generous 5 figure fee from each person.

A lawyer is a great limiter, mediator, and just general cap on people acting shitty in an emotionally charged situation. It's like riding in a chartered car versus driving yourself. And really, it's more like a bus since you do not know how to drive this thing with the double whammy of not entirely being in a state to do so anyways.

Really, if you've never seen this completely blow up and turn in to everyone backstabbing eachother and screaming and assaulting eachother just... skip that part, please. I'm in to round two now so far in my life and begging for never again.
posted by emptythought at 3:19 AM on July 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Look into who the lawyers use for their personal estate matters and you'll get a clue on who is revered by their peers. In my area we have one practice that wrote and updates a treatise that is a solid reference for attorneys - they run a well-oiled practice and could give you a flat fee estimate based on specifics. There is a second large practice that has an online/radio show and is known for high billable hours. Those who know better choose the first firm. I wouldn't be surprised to see poor reviews on Yelp for the second one.

Do not, DO NOT, go with a friend of a friend who happens to be a lawyer. The learning curve can be steep if this isn't their area. If you end up doing this on your own, get bonded/insured for executor functions-it will give you peace of mind if something goes sideways later and there is a claim.

Oh, and the estate lawyers know the accountants who routinely do this, again, a savings on the learning curve.
posted by childofTethys at 3:41 AM on July 24, 2015

Do-it-yourself should not even be a consideration when there is that much money involved. For many areas of legal practice involving personal matters or small business:

1. Getting it done on your own seems cheap.
2. Getting it done right will cost a bit.
3. Fixing what was done under option 1 will cost a lot more - if it's fixable.

Very often, families will come in to my office and we end up, after reviewing everything, telling them that no probate is needed because everything, or nearly everything, passed automatically.
posted by megatherium at 4:18 AM on July 24, 2015 [3 favorites]

Information about finding a lawyer is available at the MeFi Wiki Get a lawyer page. Based on what you describe in your question, it sounds like there may not have been a lawyer involved in the estate planning process, which could have saved the time and money that may now be needed to clean up what sounds like a bit of a mess. However, if estate planning did happen, your SO may learn that things are not particularly complicated and there will not be extensive attorney fees required to make sure everything is done correctly in court and for tax purposes.
posted by Little Dawn at 8:33 AM on July 24, 2015

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