Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jan 28, 2009

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How successful could a layperson be trying to go through the probate process without an experienced attorney? R. David Weaver, a Texas attorney with over 25 years experience whose practice offers a wide range of legal services including estate planning and probate, summed it best when he told us that going into probate court, or any other court for that matter, is like performing surgery on yourself.

Why is it so risky?

Trying to handle a probate matter without an attorney is extremely risky terrain that is not designed to be navigated by the layperson, according to Weaver. He explained, “For whatever reason, the courts and the legislatures of the various states have basically carved out the courtroom as an area exclusively for occupancy by lawyers who are trained in the rules and procedures and statutes. I’ve seen some really, really smart people attempt it, only to trip and fall over sometimes very elementary matters of procedure or statutory provision. And again, if the property is worth going into probate over, it’s worth hiring a lawyer to do it.”

How long does the process take in Texas?

Weaver says that a lot of that depends upon the nature and extent of the property that’s involved and whether the estate has any claims that can be asserted against third parties, in which case, the executor or administrator of the estate asserts those claims on behalf of the estate. He explained:

The estate remains open until such time as the executor or administer is able to establish – to the court’s satisfaction – that all the property of the estate has been distributed to whoever is entitled to get it. It depends on the nature, type and extent of the property because what has to happen when you go into a probate situation is that you have to file an inventory of the claims against the estate that you’re aware of and the property of the estate. Then, the individuals who have claims against the estate need to make their claims which get filed with the administrator or the executor who reviews them and if they’re legitimate, pays them. Then, what’s left over is distributed in accordance with either the statute or the Will.