Tips for Pursuing Estate Litigation During COVID-19

On March 15, New Jersey courts suspended in-person proceedings as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In May, the state’s Supreme Court ordered most courts to resume proceedings but in a virtual manner. If you’ve been thinking of pursuing estate litigation related to a deceased loved one’s will, you may be wondering if you should get the process going or wait until the crisis calms down.

Time Limits

The trustee of a will or estate has nine months from the date of a person’s death to settle the estate. Any claims on the estate must be filed within those nine months. New Jersey law only gives a person four months to challenge or contest a will. If you plan to do this, you will need to pursue estate litigation now instead of waiting for a possible end to the COVID-19 pandemic. There is an exception to the four-month rule. If the will was concealed from you for a while, the courts may allow you four months from the date of discovery to contest the will. There is precedent for this, but there is no guarantee.

Process for Virtual Estate Litigation Cases

The New Jersey courts are reopening for estate litigation, municipal court and most other areas of law. However, the proceedings are conducted in a virtual environment whenever possible. This involves the use of technology that allows you to hear and see the involved parties without being in the same room. Each court does this differently. You may be assigned a meeting room in the courthouse, or you might be told to join the proceedings from home or your estate lawyer’s office.

COVID-19 Time Extensions on Some Deadlines

Many judges and courts have provided litigants with deadline extensions because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The courts are also trying to reduce paperwork or make certain processes simpler during these challenging times. For example, the undue hardship form requirement no longer has to be completed. Courts in California and other states are providing unlimited time extensions on some proceedings due to the difficulty in obtaining documents or information while judges, lawyers and other personnel attempt to work from home or separately from each other. Courts are even going so far as to mandate that proceedings be filed by email or secure electronic data exchange instead of hard copies delivered in person.

Nobody Knows the Future of the COVID-19 Pandemic

Health officials do not know when or if the COVID-19 pandemic will end. While one vaccine manufacturer, Moderna, has started its third-phase clinical trials, any type of mass vaccination program is still a year or more away under the best of circumstances. Some scientists project that COVID-19 may be something that society will have to live with, like influenza.

Waiting to pursue estate litigation during this crisis mode may cause you undue stress. You might be anxious about the situation. If you were expecting to receive property or a sum of money that you need now, waiting longer could cause you some hardship. Things might be even hastier if you’re dealing with an economic setback due to the pandemic.

Getting the necessary documents could also be more difficult if you wait any longer. It may be in your best interest to begin taking action and see whether or not the court is ready to process the case.

If you need to dispute a will, set up a plan or deal with related matters, it’s a good idea to speak with an estate planning litigation lawyer. That’s where The Knee Law Firm comes through for residents in Hackensack and the surrounding areas. Even if you have to wait for the courts to reopen and get through their backlog, we’ll make sure you’re prepared with the documents needed to proceed with your case. To schedule a consultation with our estate planning litigation lawyer, call (201) 996-1200 or contact us online for additional information.