Clients often call asking us why their probate case is taking so long. Probate usually takes a while, but lately, it has become an even longer process. We will discuss three current, real-world situations to help you understand what your case might be taking longer than you thought.
Is there a backlog for probate?
As is the case for any bureaucracy (especially government), due to COVID/lockdowns, the courts have had limited staff and operations for over a year. This means the courts (which are generally not lightning fast anyway) are now playing one year’s worth of catch up. Probate court piles have been stacking up; it’s not as if people stopped dying.
On top of the daunting backlog, the courts are understaffed. Additionally, new clerks are hired who are not very experienced. Also keep in mind that many offices are working on a staggered in-person schedule. This leads to more delays and mistakes because there may not be enough experienced workers to provide solid training. The new clerks may have to wait much longer to get a simple answer from a supervisor who is working remotely. Meanwhile, the piles of files are stacking higher.
Can probate court change its mind?
Imagine the court (clerk, staff member, etc.) reviews your file, and requires a laundry list of changes from you. This is normal and happens often. But many changes are very time consuming, such as getting papers signed, translated, ordered from other courts, etc.
Even if we think the changes are unnecessary, usually it’s just better to grin and bear and do as court instructs. Arguing about the changes won’t make it go faster, so you comply. Now imagine by the time we file the requested changes the court clerks have cycled out or changed. Now we have a new clerk who says, “who told you to do it that way? I need you to do these other five things.” This often happens with bigger corporations where you usually do not deal with the same person twice. Typically, you get to know the court clerks over the years. But lately, the turnover has been unusually high for whatever reason.
Do courts make mistakes?
Yes, the court personnel are human and make mistakes, too. For example, probate court have SLOWLY adopted e-file system. Does e-file work smoothly? Not yet. We can file some things, but not everything.
We had a client who called us for a case status. He got really frustrated and called the court directly after we told him we are waiting on the court. He called to ask court status of case; court replied that nothing had ever filed. However, we were literally looking at the computer screen showing the date that the case was e-filed and accepted. The poor client didn’t know what was going on: was his lawyer or the court lying to him? Thankfully, we put out the fire since we had receipts to prove the e-file.
These are some reasons we’re seeing as to why probate is taking much longer than usual. Hang in there; it’s a waiting game. And we’re waiting along with you
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