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Pro Se / Unauthorized Practice of Law in Probate Court

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A Pro Se litigant is commonly understood to be someone who represents himself in a legal proceeding without the assistance of an attorney. It is well established that a person has a right to represent himself before a court of law. Importantly, however, a pro se litigant can represent onlyhimself, not other parties. According to Texas law, only a licensed attorney is allowed to represent other parties. In practicality, most probate matters involve others. Accordingly, an attorney will usually be required to apply for letter of administration, letters testamentary, determinations of heirship, and guardianships. A pro se proceeding is allowed when the applicant truly represents himself only and no other person or entity; to do otherwise would constitute an unauthorized practice of law. There are limited instances where a pro se would be the sole person involved, but that is not the norm.

As set out in the case of Steele v. McDonald, an independent executor of an estate was found to be engaging in the unauthorized practice of law by discharging the estate’s attorney and proceeding pro se in an appeal on behalf of the estate. Typically, an executor represents the interests of beneficiaries and creditors of the estate. Therefore, an executor would need to employ an attorney to bring legal proceedings on behalf of those whose interest the executor represents.

Likewise, the court in In re Guetersloh held that a Trustee cannot appear pro se on behalf of a trust, but must retain counsel when pursuing legal action on behalf of the trust.

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