The Impact on Probate Litigation

What are the Courts doing to stop the spread?
The Supreme Judicial Court, the Probate and Family Courts, and the Superior Courts in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts have taken extraordinary measures to reduce the amount of foot traffic into our courthouses in order to help limit the spread of the virus.  The Courts issued the following unprecedented, relevant Orders governing courthouse practices during this pandemic, effective March 18, 2020:  Order in re: COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic,  Standing Order 2-20: Court operations under the exigent circumstances created by COVID-19and Superior Court Standing Order 3-20: Protocol governing Superior Court proceedings during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

What if there is a matter that needs to be heard in court?
The Courts are hearing onlyemergency matters that cannot be resolved by phone or teleconference.  All other matters will be postponed until a date after April 21st (Superior Court) or May 1st (Probate Court).

Emergency matters occur frequently in probate litigation cases, and the Probate and Family Court’s Standing Order 2-20 enumerates certain types of cases that can be filed and heard now as an emergency:  petitions seeking Do Not Resuscitate Orders, temporary guardian or conservator, protective services, special personal representative, marriage without delay, dependency if a child will turn 21 prior to May 1st, injunctive relief, and temporary orders and contempt actions both with demonstrated exceptional/exigent circumstances.  Relatedly, all temporary orders of guardianship and conservatorship cases that expire between now and May 1st will be administratively extended for 60 days from the expiration date. 

Have there been any other important changes?
The Clerk’s Offices in both Probate and Superior Courts are accepting emergency filings and encouraging e-filings where possible for all other matters.  Also in both Probate and Superior Courts, all deadlines set forth in statutes, court rules, standing orders, or other guidelines that would otherwise expire between now and April 21, 2020 are extended until April 21, 2020. 

Where should I seek additional assistance?
As you can see, there are many facets to the Orders that require analysis to see how they affect each specific case and deadline, especially because there are additional nuances not explained here and additional clarifications yet to come from the Courts.  Burns & Levinson is committed to helping clients with family and personal matters get through this difficult time.  Our team of attorneys, paralegals, and dedicated staff are available to answer questions about how these Orders impact you and to facilitate obtaining emergency orders when necessary, and we will post additional updates here as they become available to us.


About the Author: Ann Hetherwick Cahill
Hether Cahill is a partner in the firm’s Private Client Group and serves as Co-Chair of the Fiduciary Litigation Committee of the Boston Bar Association and the Case Comments Editor of the Massachusetts Law Review.  Hether Cahill represents individuals and fiduciaries in estate and trust matters, guardianships/conservatorships, family law, and appeals.  She can be reached at ahcahill@burnslev.com or 617.345.3358.

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