The recent increase in positive COVID-19 cases in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts due to the significantly contagious nature of the latest variant and other factors have led to a reduction of in-person staff at the trial courts, including the probate courts. As ordered by the Chief Justice of the Trial Court, the probate courts have decreased the in-person staff to fifty percent (50%) or less of the total number of staff, and placed staff members on teams that rotate between working remotely and in-person at the office for the health and safety of staff and visitors. This Order is in effect from January 3, 2022, until further notice. The courts remain open to the public for in-person visits unless they are temporarily closed, which closures are noted on this Massachusetts government website, and this Twitter account.
Why Does This Matter to You?
If you are already experiencing holdups in the progress of a probate matter, please be aware that there may be further delays. Likewise, if you are about to file pleadings (the documents that are filed with the Court asking the Court to take some action) in an ongoing matter with the probate court, it may take much longer than usual to receive the response or documentation requested. In our experience, where the initial appointment of a Personal Representative of an estate may have taken 3 to 4 months in the past, we are now waiting up to 6 months or longer for this to occur.
What Are We Doing About It?
Once we submit pleadings to the probate court, we track the progress of your case electronically. We also contact the probate court representatives regularly by telephone, video conference and in-person when possible to be proactive in the event there is an issue that may be easily resolved, and to gently but firmly encourage forward movement on your behalf.
What Can You Do About It?
Have patience. The courts are aware of the frustration and impact caused by the delays as they struggle to address the backlog of cases and meet increased demand while keeping their staff and visitors healthy and safe.
Also, seriously consider completing your own estate plan that avoids probate by creating and funding one or more Trusts, which will allow your estate to bypass the probate court at your death.
Now more than ever is a good time to include a Trust as part of your estate plan. At Samuel, Sayward & Baler LLC, a knowledgeable attorney will explain how a Trust works and the steps you need to take in order to ensure your estate avoids probate at your death. If probate is necessary, Samuel, Sayward & Baler LLC will diligently work with the probate court to advance your probate case through the administration process as quickly as possible.
Attorney Abigail V. Poole is an associate attorney with the Dedham firm of Samuel, Sayward & Baler LLC which focuses on advising its clients in the areas of trust and estate planning, estate settlement and elder law matters. She is an active member and current President Elect of the Massachusetts Chapter of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA). This article is not intended to provide legal advice or create or imply an attorney-client relationship. No information contained herein is a substitute for a personal consultation with an attorney. For more information visit ssbllc.com or call 781/461-1020.
© 2022 Samuel, Sayward & Baler LLC