Losing a loved one is always difficult and often accompanied by stressful legal obligations related to settling the estate of the deceased. Administering an estate during the coronavirus pandemic, and in the months that follow, brings additional obstacles and delays that the executor and families must face.
This is true whether your loved one performed thorough estate planning or left behind a less-defined vision for his or her legacy. For help navigating these matters in West Virginia (WV), Kentucky (KY), and Ohio (OH), reach out to the trusted Huntington, West Virginia estate administration attorneys of Jenkins Fenstermaker, PLLC.
What to Expect when Administering an Estate during the Coronavirus
State supreme courts, including those in WV, KY, and OH, have issued guidance and orders regarding court policies during COVID-19. In addition to understanding the standard processes of settling an estate in WV, KY, or OH, executors, trustees, and families now must be additionally aware of changes to those processes, adjustments to deadlines and schedules, and the requirements of court safety and security policies.
The best way to ensure that you are prepared for administering an estate during the coronavirus pandemic, or any time, is to consult with an experienced attorney who is staying apprised of the ever-changing rules and procedures as the situation evolves.
WV Court Policies during COVID-19
The Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia has issued a series of orders and declarations throughout the COVID-19 pandemic that impact West Virginia estate administration:
On March 12, 2020, the court issued a COVID-19 Planning Document containing specific court protocols to be followed in an effort to reduce the spread of the coronavirus
On March 16, 2020, an administrative order stated that hearings of a non-urgent nature should be postponed or held remotely; rules limiting the ability of courts to hold hearings and proceedings remotely were temporarily suspended
On March 22, 2020, the court issued an administrative order declaring a judicial emergency that effectively stayed all proceedings and extended deadlines and statutes of limitations set to expire during the period of March 23 to April 10, 2020
On April 1, 2020, another administrative order amending the judicial emergency order, extended the timeframe to May 1, 2020
On April 22, a second amended order further extended the Emergency Declaration to May 15, 2020
On April 24, the court issued a Temporary Order Regarding Civil Litigation and Rules of Civil Procedure in Circuit Court, directing courts to assess the current status of all cases, hold remote hearings when possible, and rule on any fully submitted motions pending. This document also set forth timeframes for filing of motions and responses and outlined WV court policies and procedures for discovery and depositions
On May 5, 2020, the court issued an administrative order regarding the resumption of operations, allowing in-person hearings to resume on May 18, 2020, but noting that remote hearings would still be allowed and encouraged, when appropriate
These orders and adjustments, as well as similar changes to court policies during COVID-19 dictated by the Kentucky Court of Justice and The Supreme Court of Ohio, have impacted and will continue to impact the process of settling an estate in WV, KY, and OH in various ways, from policies regarding access to courthouses and delays in hearings to resetting of deadlines.
Safety and Security while Administering an Estate during the Coronavirus
If you do have to attend an in-person court hearing or courthouse appointment in the process of settling an estate in WV, KY, or OH, it is important to review and follow the guidelines provided by the court in advance.
In WV, for example, the WV Judiciary issued public guidance for individuals visiting courts and judicial facilities as coronavirus restrictions are lifted. Attorneys have an obligation to ensure that their clients are informed of these requirements in advance so the rules can be followed:
Anyone entering judicial facilities must wear a mask at all times unless instructed to remove it by a judicial officer
Individuals with a fever or other COVID-19 symptoms should not enter the facilities and should contact their presiding officer or clerk as soon as possible to make arrangements and receive further instructions
Visitors must practice proper hand hygiene, including frequent hand-washing, use of hand sanitizer, coughing or sneezing into the elbow, and avoiding touching of the face
A six-foot distance is required between anyone who resides in a different household at all times
In addition to these requirements, specific courts, offices, or security staff might issue further instructions that must be followed. Understanding these requirements in advance of a visit to any judicial facility is important to protect the safety and health of all while administering an estate during the coronavirus.
In Kentucky, the supreme court issued two administrative orders outlining plans for reopening courts and establishing protocols by court circuit. Ohio courts have also been tasked with establishing rules by court, so it is important to evaluate the requirements of the specific jurisdiction before you visit these locations or begin the process of settling an estate.
Additional Struggles You Might Face while Settling an Estate in WV, KY, or OH
Estate executors and administrators have a fiduciary duty to protect and preserve the assets entrusted to them, including real estate holdings and investments that could be negatively impacted by the coronavirus pandemic and resulting economic difficulties. Managing these matters appropriately is critical to the preservation of the estate’s wealth and the legal protection of the administrators, as we’ll discuss more thoroughly in the next article in this series.
Executors and families should also consider the potential delays in gathering documents and information related to an estate. Backlogs and reduced staffing at banks and other institutions may slow or limit your access to your loved one’s records and physical assets, such as those stored in safety deposit boxes. Obtaining appraisal of physical items like heirlooms and jewelry might also be more difficult during the pandemic and after.
In addition to many other moving targets, tax deadlines have been changed as a result of the pandemic as well, and this should be taken into consideration by those settling an estate in WV, KY, OH, or elsewhere.
Contact a West Virginia Estate Administration Attorney
Administering an estate during the coronavirus pandemic presents new challenges. Anna M. Price, a West Virginia estate administration attorney from Jenkins Fenstermaker, PLLC, can guide you and your family in settling an estate in WV, KY, and OH and can also help with all of your estate planning needs. Contact Anna by calling (304) 523-2100 or completing the firm’s online contact form to schedule a personal consultation.