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Probate during COVID-19 pandemic in Massachusetts
Probate is the legal process that a deceased person’s estate must go through to pass the decedent’s probatable assets on to their descendants or, preferably, their named beneficiaries. Probate can be time-consuming and expensive and can significantly delay inheritance.
What’s more, probate involves a great deal of court and administrative oversight and is a public process where your family’s grievances may be aired out in public. Nevertheless, in most cases, some form of probate will be needed, whether the decedent left a Will or not.
The COVID-19 pandemic is still having an enormous impact on many aspects of life in Massachusetts, including the probate process. According to a recently released Massachusetts Probate and Family Court Standing Order, until July 1, 2020, Massachusetts probate courts will only handle emergency matters through the electronic filing system, or via telephone, video-conference, email, or other comparable means, but will continue to be closed to the general public.
What Does COVID-19’s Effect on the Massachusetts Probate Process Mean For You?
Some of you may have lost loved ones during this COVID-19 pandemic, whether due to illness or some other unfortunate incident, and you may be asking yourselves if probate is even possible during this state of emergency. The answer to that question likely depends on the jurisdiction where you need to open the decedent’s probate estate, which, in turn, will depend on where the decedent resided.
For example, if the decedent passed away in Acton, Concord, Maynard, or Sudbury, then the Middlesex Probate Court would be your forum for the probate process; if the decedent lived in the central part of the state, your forum would be Worcester; if the decedent lived down the south shore, your forum would be Norfolk; and if the decedent resided in Boston, Suffolk County will be your forum for probate.
Some of these courts have been (and are still) working at half staff to facilitate social distancing during the current state of emergency. Because of this, the movement of probate cases through these courts has been significantly delayed, especially in those courts that are experiencing a high volume of cases.
Also, the courts are currently giving priority to emergency matters, such as petitions and motions seeking Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) orders, authorizations for medical treatment, and Health Care Proxy actions. Probate petitions and other related matters are, for the most part, not considered emergencies. Because of this, the movement of probate cases, in general, has been significantly delayed.
Other Problems That COVID-19 has Caused For the Probate Process
Because probate mostly involves the proper drafting and filing of documentation that can often be accomplished electronically, social distancing shouldn’t really be an issue. But, even in good times, the probate process is still rather antiquated, especially when it comes to things like signing documents.
People often ask if they can sign their probate documents electronically. But, while electronic signatures work in other areas, like business and real estate, in the probate arena, many documents still need to be signed by hand and, most often, notarized.
Recently, regulations were enacted to allow for “remote” notarization via live streaming platforms during the COVID-19 state of emergency. But, there have been many complications with “remote” notarization that render it less than ideal. What’s more, an electronic signature will not suffice when a handwritten (wet) signature, on a paper document, is required.
Another issue that you may face, as the personal representative of your loved one’s estate, involves gathering information regarding the assets in the estate. This is because there are still a lot of businesses and institutions that have not reopened or that are still being run remotely. As a result, these businesses and institutions are either inaccessible or less accessible than before and the information you need will be much more difficult to obtain.
Add to that the fact that many banks and other financial institutions are overwhelmed with loan applications and other tasks related to the financial fallout from the pandemic. So, working with you to open a bank account for probate, for example, may not be at the top of their list of priorities.
How an Experienced Massachusetts Probate Attorney Can Help?
The COVID-19 state of emergency has had an enormous impact on probate in Massachusetts. But, most Massachusetts probate attorneys are still working to help their clients successfully navigate the probate process.
Working with an experienced probate attorney can alleviate a lot of the stress that you may experience due to the additional challenges brought on by the COVID-19 state of emergency. Furthermore, the assistance of a skilled attorney will allow you more time to mourn the loss of your loved one and to comfort other family members.
Even if you are not sure that you need or want an attorney’s assistance, you should still consult with a qualified probate attorney for the answers to any questions you might have regarding probating your loved one’s estate during the COVID-19 state of emergency and to find out exactly how he or she can help.
Call the Law Offices of Richard Mucci at 781-729-3999, or contact us online to schedule a no-cost, no-obligation consultation with a skilled Massachusetts probate attorney who can guide you through the probate process and, if nothing else, help you achieve a little more peace of mind.