April 9th, 2020

How Virtual Probate Helps with Estate Administration during the Coronavirus

Many of us have read sad stories during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic of those losing loved ones and not being able to hold a funeral. Unfortunately, to help prevent the spread of this virus, traditional visitations, memorials, and funerals are being altered or put on hold. Can you move forward with the estate administration process during the pandemic? See how new virtual probate options are making this possible and helping provide closure amidst the coronavirus.

What is probate?

A Will identifies the person(s) to receive the estate assets and authorizes a person – called an executor/executrix – to administer the estate. The process requires the Will to be probated, which means the original Will must be presented to a county official, known often as the Register of Wills. The Register of Wills examines the document to ensure execution according to a law designed to assure authenticity.  Once this is complete, the Register of Wills issues what are called Letters Testamentary. The executor/executrix is now authorized to administer the estate, and others will accept the authority of that person to bind the estate.

In summary, probate is defined as the official proving of a Will or establishing the validity of a Will. Probate is an important step in the estate administration process. In most instances, the process is smooth, but there are always exceptions, like during a pandemic.

The virtual probate process

So, what happens if the court house is closed because of a pandemic?  Fortunately, the Register of Wills, on a county-by-county basis, has created alternate procedures during this time of crisis.

In both Northampton and Lehigh County, our local Register of Wills permits virtual probate. The process is more complicated than previously existed and varies from county to county, but estate assets can now be preserved for the beneficiaries.

The virtual probate process is similar to an in-person probate in that the documents required for an in-person probate must now be emailed to the Register of Wills. The attorney and the executor/executrix must appear before the Register of Wills of the County in which the decedent resided, via video conferencing. During this period of time, all executors/executrices must be represented by an attorney. The Clerk must be able to see the executor/executrix sign the Petition. When the probate process is completed, and the original documents are mailed to the Register of Wills, the documents will be reviewed and the Grant of Letters will be issued.

Taking steps after loss

Our Wills, Trusts & Estates team is ready and able to assist with the virtual probate process, helping clients take steps after the loss of a loved one. Gross McGinley and its staff are working remotely and using virtual technology to accomplish all aspects of estate administration. Estate administration is still possible during the coronavirus pandemic using virtual probate.

Attorney Victor Cavacini provides estate planning and administration services to families in and around the Lehigh Valley region.

The content found in this resource is for informational reference use only and is not considered legal advice. Laws at all levels of government change frequently and the information found here may be or become outdated. It is recommended to consult your attorney for the most up-to-date information regarding current laws and legal matters.