Free legal help on probate issues now available at county court

People who lose loved ones and can’t afford an attorney to help file paperwork with the Montgomery County Probate Court can now get help for free.

The probate court and the Montgomery County Public Defender’s Office officially opened a new resource center Monday that will offer legal advice for simple case filings.

Many times it can be difficult for people who recently lost a loved one to navigate the legal system and laws surrounding estates when they can’t afford an attorney, Montgomery County Probate Judge David Brannon said, and due to ethical regulations, court employees are not allowed to give legal advice.

“People were really in need of it,” said Theresa Haire, the law director for the Montgomery County Public Defender’s Office. “For all the courts we appear in, this might be the most complicated because of the filing requirements and all the paperwork that has to be filed just so.

“So to be able to help folks when they are dealing with a tragedy or at least when they are dealing with a loss and they can have somebody navigate the system, we are so happy,” she said.

The resource center is to help with paperwork for smaller estates like a car, a bank account or maybe a house, Brannon said. The center will also be able to help people with guardianship issues, name changes and other legal issues that come before the probate court.

The resource center will be funded through the Montgomery County Public Defender’s Office, Haire said, which gets its money from Montgomery County and the commissioners.

The Montgomery County Probate Court has handled more than 3,100 cases involving estates, name changes, trusts, adoptions and guardianship issues so far this year. Of the 3,100, about a third of the filings were done by a person who did not hire a lawyer.

Brannon said it takes a lot of the court’s resources to answer filings from people who don’t have an attorney because they are often rejected several times for issues before finally being revised and accepted. The hope is that the new resource center will be able to streamline the process and make the court more efficient, he said.

“What makes ours unique is (that) it’s staffed full-time by somebody that can give the gauntlet of legal advice and not be barred,” Brannon said, noting that the public defender’s office started offering representation in adoption cases after a ruling last year from the Ohio Supreme Court allowed them to do so. He said that has been helpful so it made sense to expand their services.

It’s important for people to consider creating a will while they are alive to help make the processes easier for loved ones left behind, Brannon and Haire said.

“The truth is if there was solid planning done before, a lot of these problems can be avoided,” Brannon said. “But the reality is, and this applies across the board -- it doesn’t matter what income bracket or demographic -- people just fail to plan completely.”

The resource center can’t make a will for a person, Haire said, but can advise people who already have one what to do next. Anyone who plans to use the resource center should bring as much paperwork as possible including those that deal with property and bank statements, Haire said, as it will help the attorney organize exactly what needs to be accomplished.

How to get help

The resource center is on the second floor of the Montgomery County Common Pleas Court building, 41 N. Perry St. in Dayton. The center will be accepting both walk-ins and scheduled appointments. For more information, call 937-225-4640.

About the Author