Yesterday, I received what was otherwise a routine call about a potential probate case:
The caller told me she had hired a “probate paralegal” to prepare the paperwork that she, the caller, would then file the case herself. She thought she had found some magical loophole to avoid hiring an attorney, until the clerk noticed some errors in the filing and the probate paralegal was suddenly nowhere to be found. The court allowed her 30 days to find representation and now our office must dive in and undo the damage that was done.
What is a “Probate Paralegal”?
I’m putting “probate paralegal” in quotes because there is no such formal occupation in Florida, unless you are making reference to a paralegal who works for a law firm and handles probate matters as part of his or her job. There is no “probate paralegal” degree. If you think you might hire one, ask them if they will contact the clerk or the court on your behalf if anything goes wrong. (They won’t.)
Please don’t misunderstand: I’m not knocking paralegals at all.
I love paralegals! They are the salt of the earth… the heart and soul behind nearly every law firm.
But I need to make a few points:
- “Probate paralegals” are not a Florida Bar recognized entity (to my knowledge).
- Paralegals or “legal document specialists” as they sometimes call themselves, who work independent of a firm and without a supervising attorney are doing so at, potentially, your expense.
- Paralegals are not qualified to give legal advice. Heck, the court clerks aren’t even allowed to do that.
- If something goes wrong with your “simple” probate matter, they can’t just swoop in and fix things on your behalf.
So what can go wrong?
- Last Will and Testament denied admission to probate (for a host of reasons)
- Creditor claims out of left field
- Ex parte hearings called by the judge
- Failure to properly notify creditors
- Improper determination of type of probate administration
I’ve received so many calls over the years where the caller opens with “This is a very simple probate case”. These “probate paralegals” convince people that probate is just a matter of form filling but they won’t be around if things go wrong.
Do yourself a favor an hire a Florida probate attorney, even if it’s not us.
There’s a lot less mess to undo if your case is in the right hands.