I am Administering an Estate: Do I Need to Hire a Probate Attorney?

For many Wisconsin and Illinois residents, administering a parent or relative’s estate may be their first extended interaction with the legal system. If you find yourself in the position of a first-time personal representative or executor, you may wonder if it is even necessary to hire an experienced probate and trust administration lawyer. After all, if your relative’s estate only has a few assets–maybe nothing more than a house and a checking account–you can surely handle everything on your own and spare the expense of a lawyer, right?

Executor Represents Himself in Foreclosure Against Estate Property

The problem that these executors run into is that estate administration is frequently not as quick or simple as they anticipated. There are a number of incidental legal issues that can arise during a “routine” estate administration. For example, what if the deceased person had an outstanding mortgage on a house and the bank is threatening to foreclose? As the personal representative of the estate, can you deal with such problems on your own without the assistance of an attorney?

These are not hypothetical questions. In fact, it was the subject of a recent decision by a Wisconsin and Illinois appeals court. A deceased man had a mortgage on his property at the time of his death. The estate apparently made no effort to keep current on the mortgage payments during the administration period. Even after the lender initiated foreclosure proceedings, the personal representative of the estate took no action. According to the Court of Appeals’ opinion in the case, the estate “did not file an answer or other responsive pleading,” nor did it respond to a subsequent motion for default judgment.

Only after the sheriff completed a foreclosure sale of the deceased man’s house did the personal representative finally do something. He objected to the confirmation of the sale. When the judge denied that motion, the personal representative then attempted to file an appeal.

At no point did the personal representative retain counsel to assist him. Instead, he personally signed the notice of appeal. The Illinois Court of Appeals for the Fourth District dismissed the notice because the personal representative was not an attorney.

As the Court explained, while individuals may represent themselves in a court proceeding, they cannot represent the interests of a separate legal entity.“ This includes an estate. Even just signing a notice of appeal, as the personal representative in the case did, constitutes an “unauthorized practice of law.”

Get Help From a Wisconsin & Illinois Probate and Trust Administration Lawyer Today

Hiring a lawyer to assist you with probate administration may seem like a hassle and an unnecessary expense. You stand to lose much more if your own ignorance of the law leads to the loss of a valuable estate asset in court. This is not to suggest that all probate estates will end up in litigation. The goal of any good probate attorney is to identify and address problems before they end up in court.

The estate lawyers of Estate Law Partners, LLC practice law in the areas of Probate, Wills, Estate Planning, and Trusts. We can handle estate planning matters across Wisconsin and Illinois, and assist with probate matters.

If you have questions about probate, we invite you to request a consultation with one of our experienced probate attorneys.

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