At times people may feel that they can best represent themselves and their own interests in court, wanting to appear in court without legal representation for simple matters. The legal terms Pro Se, in propriam personam, or pro per come from Latin phrases which translate to ‘appearing for oneself; for one’s own behalf.” However, representing oneself is much trickier than it may seem because any action done pro se must only affect that one individual and no one else, an unusual situation in matters of probate. In almost all situations, probate courts in Texas will require an attorney to probate a will or administer an estate.
For example, an executor of a decedent’s estate must represent the interests and concerns of other beneficiaries and creditors. When acting for the benefit of another, also known as a fiduciary relationship, the executor has legal responsibilities that naturally require counsel from a legal expert. Applying for letters testamentary (a document authorizing the executor of a will to take control of a decedent’s estate), determination of heirship, guardianship, or letters of administration are all actions that affect other people.
It is true that in certain rare instances, self-representation in court is permissible, but only when that person is the only person affected by the court proceedings. Those situations are quite limited and include an individual creditor who may make a claim against an estate under administration in probate court; a person in a civil action which is ancillary to a legal proceeding in probate; an individual objecting to an application, as long as the person objecting is not vying for the role of administrator; and an individual desiring to probate a will as a muniment of title (but only if that person is the only beneficiary and the estate has no debtors other than liens against property).
Protecting the interests of all beneficiaries involved is such a priority in Texas that only a licensed attorney may practice law. Tex. Gov. Code Ann. § 81.102 (a) (Vernon 1988). Therefore, moving forward pro se could easily constitute the unauthorized practice of law that will not be allowed in court. People sometimes assume incorrectly that acting pro se is just a simple matter of filling out and submitting a form. While it is true that some forms are available online, the filing of a form or application to probate an estate is a very small part of the overall process.
Probate issues may seem simple and straightforward, but in nearly every instance, Texas law requires legal representation. A probate attorney has the expertise to determine which actions are most appropriate for any given situation and how best to navigate the complexities of probate law.
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