Virtual Probate: Is it Here to Stay?

At some point in the (hopefully not-so-distant) future, it will be the socially acceptable norm to resume in-person meetings and help pack your favorite restaurant to capacity. For the time being, though, we’ll have to make do with this new normal. Could some aspects of this new normal carry over to the next new normal? The answer is yes, and that could include virtual court hearings like Pennsylvanians have seen with probate proceedings. 

To “open” an estate, the executor or personal representative (if the decedent had no Will) typically goes to the Register of Wills at the Courthouse and files a probate petition. You will need to submit the death certificate and if there is a valid Will, you need to submit that also. After opening a probate case with Orphans’ Court, the executor or personal representative will receive either letters of testamentary or letters of administration. 

For this process of starting an estate administration, virtual hearings can be much more efficient. You don’t have to worry about getting to the courthouse, finding parking, or walking to the right office. Those who have been working from home since the pandemic reached the U.S. understand how convenient this can be. We help by getting the Will and death certificate to the courthouse, before the virtual meeting that will officially appoint the Executor.

Advantages of a Virtual Probate Process

The Executor of an estate must report to the Register of Wills about their progress getting the estate administered. However, this does not require the Executor to go to the Courthouse in person; the reports can be filed by mail or electronically. The only step that has required you to report in person was beginning the estate administration by filing the Will and getting sworn in as Executor. But now that step is being routinely handled by mailing the needed documents in advance, and then meeting online. 

For estates without major complications, this change means the Executor and law firm can use the saved time to make quicker progress on the estate. I imagine the local Register of Wills finds these virtual appointments more efficient as well. 

None of this means that all the other Estate Administration jobs can be bypassed. Besides filing the Will, the Executor’s job includes locating other estate planning documents, paying off final debts, paying the Inheritance Tax on or before the due date, notifying creditors, and eventually giving heirs their inheritances, just to name some of the duties. 

In-Person Court Hearings Aren’t Completely Going Away

Routine, systematic proceedings like opening an estate, may very well continue to be virtual, or at least to permit a virtual option. Not having to drive to the courthouse and find parking is a welcome change for many Executors. We’ve had Executors come to our office for the online proceedings to be able to interact with us more easily, or because they’re not comfortable with the process being on their computer. If they don’t come to our office, we join them virtually on the computer screen. The job gets done, with much less time spent by lawyer and client. 

Proceedings that are more involved or are contested, will nearly always be better handled in person. But it’s certainly possible that those involved in probate will continue to have the option to participate virtually. 

HighPoint Law Offices exists to help you get through probate proceedings efficiently and smoothly. Before it gets to that point, though, our legal team can help you or a loved one with creative estate planning solutions (which may avoid probate altogether). Call us at 215-997-9773 to see what we can do.

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HighPoint Law Offices PC

At HighPoint Law Offices we support individuals, families, and businesses of all backgrounds with estate planning services that address their unique wishes, goals, and challenges.

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