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I am sorry to hear about your loss. I am going to assume that (a) no one else's name is ***** ***** title, and (b) there is no mortgage. Please reply and let me know if otherwise.
Generally yes, probate has to be filed. Why? When someone passes away, then their estate has to be distributed. The problem is that without probate - with assets such as titled property or bank accounts (those that do not have a pay on death clause) - this is hard to do. This is because you cannot switch over the assets without an order from the probate court, and simply a Certificate of Death will not do. A Certificate of Death simply states that someone has passed on, but does not give you the right to really do anything in the deceased's name - like sell a house.
So one files probate. Once probate is filed, the Executor of the estate gets something called a Letter of Testament/Administration (hereinafter "Letter"). This Letter will allow the Executor to switch over the assets from the deceased individual to whoever will own the property. It is like a "Power of Attorney," but from the Court. Without that Letter, there is no way to transfer titled property and switch the assets the beneficiary's names. It also gives the power to sell a real estate property as part of the probate action.
If there was a Will, the beneficiaries are decided per the Will. If there was no will, the beneficiaries are decided by default succession law of the state.
If you tell me what state this is in, I can tell you more about the process.
Normally yes, an attorney is required. Most jurisdictions require counsel, I am afraid. (But again, if you tell me the state, I can be more specific about attorney requirements.)
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