Planning and Administrating Estates During The Time of COVID-19: The State of Surrogate’s Court Practice

The recent executive orders by Governor Cuomo has allowed estate planning attorneys and clients to use alternative means to prepare and finalize their planning documents. However, while it is still relatively easy to complete your estate planning, the areas of estate administration and practicing before the New York Surrogate’s Courts has become more complicated and uncertain.

Prior to April 13, 2020, the courts had limited the matters that they would hear and proceed upon to those that were deemed to be “essential.” This catch-all criteria was not fully explained and it was left to the petitioners/applicants to prove the essential nature of the specific cases. On April 13th, the courts expanded the matters that they would review to non-essential matters, but several obstacles remain for new and old petitioners.

First, given the state’s stay at home order, the personnel currently working at each court is extremely limited. Second, because of the limitations on movement, all filings are now being made either by mail or the state’s e-filing system.   While the latter is theoretically quicker than in person filing, not all counties are employing it and many are relying solely on mailed in documents. The postal service has become less reliable during this crisis and the timing of delivery of documents is increased.

In addition to these challenges, for matters where there are conflicts, the court has delayed any future in person hearings through May in some cases. In addition, the courts are also delaying issuing citations through the end of May as well. All of this together presents a great challenge to individuals with matters before the court or new matters that need to be filed.

Patience and preparation, as is the case with much of what is going on in the world today, are key to weathering this current modified court administration. Petitions that would normally take several weeks will likely be delayed even after these restrictions are lifted due to the backlog of matters. In order to reduce the delay, if you do have a matter that is already in process or needs to be filed, do not delay collecting, executing or sending any necessary paperwork to the court or your attorneys so that you will be better situated than those who wait for the current pause to end.

 

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