In most other areas of the law you have a fundamental legal right to represent
yourself in a court of law. However, that is not the case in Florida in
regards to probate if you are appointed as a personal representative of
an estate. The rules of probate speak specifically to the ability of a
layperson to represent themselves in this type of legal proceeding. Florida,
Fla. Prob. R. 5.030(a) states, “Every guardian and every personal
representative, unless the personal representative remains the sole interested
person, shall be represented by an attorney admitted to practice in Florida.”
An “Interested person” means any person who may reasonably
be expected to be affected by the outcome of the particular proceeding
involved. Fla. Stat. 731.201(23).
Therefore, in light of the directives provided by Fla. Stat. 731.201(23)
and Fla. Prob. R. 5.030(a), if there are multiple beneficiaries of an
estate, the personal representative will not be allowed to represent themselves
in a court of law. Additionally, even if you happen to be the sole beneficiary
and personal representative, the courts will still not allow you to represent
yourself if any creditors were to file claims in the probate proceeding.
Since a creditor will fit within the definition of an interested party
according to the rules, their appearance will negate your ability to proceed
without an attorney.
As such, in the vast majority of probate cases (probably 99.9% of the time
according to the current rule structure), a layperson will not be allowed
to represent themselves as a personal representative in a probate proceeding.
Perhaps the more important question though, is why you would want to.
A competent probate attorney can give you the peace of mind and confidence
to know that you are navigating unfamiliar waters with a professional
whose experience will give you superior results. So even if you find you
are able to represent yourself, you should seek the counsel of an experienced
probate attorney to help you through the process.