Deceased Estates Without a Lawyer

This website has been written to help people settle a simple deceased estate, of a relative or close friend, without engaging the services of a lawyer to avoid expensive legal fees.

While the information in this website is not legal advice you will learn enough about deceased estates and the process of probate to avoid engaging a lawyer to save thousands of dollars in legal fees.

If the estate is relatively complex you may need to engage a lawyer. However, this site will give you the knowledge of how to engage a lawyer in a limited capacity to only carry out the legal processes that you may not wish to perform yourself in order to minimise legal costs.

As most people do not possess the knowledge or skills to manage the legal process of probate and settling a deceased estate they tend to engage the services of a lawyer and just pay the legal costs.

However, the process of settling a basic deceased estate is relatively straight forward and can be completed by most people with little or no legal training. Most of what this book covers is basic legal administrative processes that are actually carried out by law clerks not lawyers. Most of the processes involve following a simple procedure, writing letters, completing forms, lodging forms and paying a fee.

An application for probate or letters of administration in uncomplicated estates can be prepared personally by the appointed Executor or Administrator, thus saving thousands of dollars in legal fees.

It is common, for Executors to make a personal application for a Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration, rather than make the application through a solicitor or law firm. The process is easy and there are also services available to assist you in this process for considerably less cost than more conventional legal services.

Hiring a law firm is to be avoided as the fees are very expensive to complete these simple administrative procedures.

Most of the work administering a deceased estate involves contacting financial institutions and other organisations to close accounts and transfer funds to the Executor/Administrator. You can easily perform these tasks yourself.

Law firms charge considerable fees and take a long time to perform this type of work. Law firms will correspond by way of sending letters to all the financial institutions and organisations that need to be contacted. This method of contact will be very slow and become very expensive as law firms charge for every letter sent and charge for every letter received.

It is much better to take on the role of Executor/Administrator yourself and personally contact financial institutions and all other organisations to wind up the estate.

When you engage a law firm to manage these processes you will initially meet with a lawyer who will provide the initial legal advice as to what needs to be done and act as your point of contact with the firm. The lawyer will then hand over the job to a clerk in the back office.

Most of the legal tasks to settle a deceased estate are very simple and are not performed by lawyers. Lawyers always delegate these tasks to less qualified paralegal or junior clerical staff. But you will be charged a high hourly rate for these services because the services were delivered by a law firm and the lawyer managed your matter.

Remember most of these processes are completed by low paid, young clerks who have little (if any) real legal training. A law firm can pay a young law clerk, say $20 per hour, and charge their work out to clients at $150 per hour. Sure there are other costs to running a law firm’s business (office rent, depreciation and advertising costs are usually higher than the law clerk’s salary) but you will be charged an enormous mark-up on a person’s time (a person who has little more experience than you).

Lawyers like to keep the details of legal processes obscure to make it seem like it is difficult and you require special knowledge to complete the tasks. Nothing could be further from the truth. Many legal tasks to settle a deceased estate are very simple and can be performed by anyone who takes the time to learn what to do.

If you can:

  • Search for items on the internet using Google or Bing.
  • Download template forms & instructions from Government websites.
  • Complete Microsoft Word forms on your computer.
  • Create simple letters on your computer.
  • Send and receive emails.
  • Place an advertisement in the Public Notice section of your local newspaper
  • Visit a court registry office, take a number and wait in the queue

You can save thousands of dollars in legal fees.

This website teaches how to perform the work carried out by the clerk in the back office.

You will learn about:

  • Wills
  • Power of Attorney
  • Basic Deceased Estates Law
  • Intestacy Rules
  • Probate
  • Steps to Settle a Deceased Estate
  • Duties of the Executor or Administrator
  • Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration
  • Settling an Estate without a Will
  • Distribution of Assets to Beneficiaries
  • Basic Property Law
  • Taxation of the Estate
  • How to engage a Lawyer (if required)


Which Jurisdictions are covered?

This guide mainly applies to USA, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand.

However, this guide is still useful in many other countries as the principles are the same in most western countries. Each jurisdiction has slight differences in procedure, legal documents, forms and which government agency handles the process. Don’t let that stop you from conducting simple research on the internet to save yourself thousands of dollars in legal fees.


Deceased Estates is Big Business for Law Firms

The number of deceased estates is substantial and a growth industry.

In the USA over 2.4 million people die every year (6,600 per day)

In England about 485,000 people die every year (1,350 per day)

In Australia over 140,000 people die every year (380 per day)

Deceased estates are one of the most lucrative areas of law for law firms. Every law firm, without fail, will handle deceased estates because it is so easy for a lawyer to generate fee income for the practice.

Generally most people who die are older persons and Lawyers know that there is an estate with money in bank accounts, investments, motor vehicles, real estate, insurance payouts and other property. When a Law firm settles a deceased estate they are guaranteed to get paid from the estate especially as they are transacting all the proceeds of the estate through their trust account.

All law firms request the executor and/or beneficiaries to sign over the rights to collect the proceeds of the estate and deposit the proceeds in the law firm’s trust account. Once in the law firm’s trust account the proceeds of the estate are used to pay debts with the surplus funds being distributed to beneficiaries. However, what they don’t tell you is the real reason why they want to channel the money through their trust account is so they can deduct their huge legal fees first before any money is distributed to beneficiaries. Often lawyers determine their legal fees based on the number and value of the assets of the estate rather than the actual work performed to settle the estate.

In reality, managing deceased estates is easy and should be handled by family members not greedy lawyers who want a slice of the estate. It’s a difficult time for a family that has lost a loved one and the last thing they need is to be fighting a law firm over huge fees for performing simple administrative work which is not really legal work at all.


When do I need to engage a Lawyer?

This book only covers basic legal administrative processes where the public commonly handle the matter themselves.

When you have a more complex legal problem please consult a lawyer to handle your case.

Other reasons to hire a lawyer would be:

  • You are not of legal age
  • You are old and don’t feel competent to handle the matter yourself
  • You are incapacitated (physically or mentally)
  • The Will is complex
  • Your matter involves assets or transactions in other countries
  • The estate is extensive with many assets and liabilities.
  • The deceased owned a business of size and/or complexity.



Don’t Listen to Other People

One of the most common mistakes people make is listening to friends and family who do not know the law and are inexperienced with legal procedures and processes.

Many people will tell you that you cannot perform legal tasks yourself.

They are wrong. You can.

Most lawyers will highly recommend that you hire a lawyer to perform the work.


Lawyers will try to scare you into believing that something may go wrong and it could cost a lot of money to fix it.

The law regarding Wills, Power of Attorney, Deceased Estates and property transfers is relatively straight forward. It is rare to encounter problems with these types of transactions.

A friend or family member may have heard information about someone else’s case and be trying to reference that legal matter to your own legal issue. Without proper legal training and knowing all the relevant facts of the case comparing your situation to another case can be dangerous and misleading.

As the law is complex and extensive no one can be an expert in all areas of the law. It is always better to conduct your own research into the law and legal processes relating to your matter.

The internet is the best tool for legal research. Most court and government department websites contain enough information to give you with all the knowledge you need to tackle most common legal processes as described in this book.

I tend to avoid lawyers as much as possible because the effort required to deal with them (engagement, meetings, providing information, negotiation, follow up) is usually the same or more work than just doing it yourself. And I would rather control the process so I know what is really going on.

Read About… Wills & Estates