Elder Law COVID-19 Fact Sheet: Helping You Navigate During This Time Of Uncertainty

To Our Family, Friends, Clients, and Community:

At the Law Office of Donald Vanarelli, we understand that the coronavirus COVID-19 has resulted in a period of uncertainty for us all. We have two messages for you. First, keep in mind that this situation, while extremely challenging, is temporary. Second, consider using this period of self-isolation as a time of self-reflection–and action. Many of us recognize that, eventually, we should get our estate plans in order. Maybe you have never executed a will, or maybe it’s time to revisit the estate plan you put in place years ago. Many of us have special concerns in this area, if we are caring for an elderly or disabled loved one. Our law office is here to help, and the following answers to frequently asked questions can get you started.

I already have a Last Will and Testament. Should I revise it now?

Over the years, laws change, the tax code changes, our needs change, and our personal relationships change. If you haven’t reviewed your current estate plan recently, now is an excellent time to do so. Whether or not your current estate planning documents were prepared by our firm, we are here to help you review your estate plan, and help you determine whether changes are appropriate.

If I already have a Will, do I need other documents?

If the coronavirus has taught us one thing, it is how quickly, and dramatically, things can change. Do you have the legal documents in place to allow a trusted relative or friend make financial decisions for you? If not, now is the time to execute a power of attorney for your financial affairs. Do you have someone in place with the legal authority to make medical decisions for you? If not, consider a living will and health care proxy.  Please contact us to discuss these vital elements of your estate plan.

If I have estate documents, should they be reviewed at this time? 

While we generally recommend that clients periodically review their estate planning in response to changes in their family and financial situation (as well as changes in the tax law), we believe the impact of the current crisis is significant enough to warrant further review. In addition to wills, powers of attorney and living wills, we recommend that clients review the beneficiary designations for their life insurance policies and retirement accounts.

How can I do estate planning now, during this period of social isolation?

Our law firm remains open for business, while we take every step to protect both our clients and our staff. Several staff members are working remotely, while others remain at our Westfield, New Jersey office. During this time period, client conferences can be conducted via telephone, FaceTime, Zoom or other similar video-conferencing method. Documents can be exchanged via email or facsimile. Your estate documents can be planned, and executed, “remotely,” without you ever leaving your home!

Have income tax return deadlines been postponed?

Yes, the IRS has extended the April 15 deadline for filing income tax returns and gift tax returns. No interest or penalties will be due if returns are filed and taxes are paid by July 15, 2020. In addition, the IRS has extended the due date for making first quarter 2020 estimated income tax payments until July 15. As of this writing, more than two-thirds of states, including New Jersey, have extended state‑level tax deadlines as well. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants is tracking state-level developments.

Are the offices of the County Surrogates still open?

The County Surrogates handle much of the work in the areas of guardianships, the probate of willsestate administration, will  contests, probate litigation and elder abuse actions. Each County Surrogate Office is adjusting hours and policies to deal with the pandemic. The overview of changed hours and policies in each county can be found here.  In Union County, the new hours are Mondays & Thursdays from 8:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.

County Surrogate Information During Covid-19 Pandemic can be accessed here – [gview file=”https://vanarellilaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/County-Surrogate-Information-During-Covid-19-Pandemic.pdf”]

April 4, 2020 Update from the Union County Surrogate:

“Our office still has staff going in on Mondays and Thursdays to process paperwork and mail certificates out.  You can follow the regular procedure by emailing the Surrogate’s Information Sheet, death certificate and the decedent’s Last Will and Testament to Sue Dinardo at sdinardo@ucnj.org or fax to 908-351-9212.  We will give the papers to the clerks when they are in and they can input the information and email the qualification papers to your lawyer’s office.  You can then forward them to the client and have the client get the papers notarized (or notarize the papers remotely if a new law permitting same is enacted).  We’re not meeting with any clients for as long as this pandemic continues.

The original documents can be mailed to the office by regular or certified mail and once we have all necessary documents we will send out the certificates and Letters.  It may take a little longer than usual but we’ll get it done.”

April 5, 2020 Update on the Monmouth County Surrogate:

A lawyer colleague who was trying to probate a will had a messenger drop off the Last Will and Testament with the Surrogate’s Information Sheet and Death Certificate at the Monmouth County Surrogate’s Office in Freehold several days ago. Security guards at the Surrogate’s Office accepted the documents at the door. The next day my colleague received by email the documents that his client needed to sign to be appointed as Executor together with an invoice covering the fee charged for the probate. The lawyer had the Executor sign the documents and his signature notarized by a title officer in the office next door.  The documents were returned to the Surrogate with a check for the fee via regular mail.

The Monmouth County Clerk’s Office has provided a webpage as a centralized portal for information about the latest public notices, closures, and cancellations, regarding the rapidly evolving COVID-19 situation.

Update from the Morris County Surrogate:

The Morris County Surrogate’s Office has suspended in-person applications until further notice. The Surrogate will continue to provide service via phone (973-285-6500), fax (973-829-8599), email (surrogate@co.morris.nj.us), and regular mail (Morris County Surrogate Court, P.O. Box 900, Morristown, NJ 07963-0900).

Update from the Passaic County Surrogate:

Please be advised that the Passaic County Surrogate’s office is closed to the public and we are NOT able to take any court matters in person. You can call at 973-881-4760. You can also email the Surrogate’s office at Surrogateinfo@passaiccountynj.org for more information.

April 20, 2020 Update on Recent Changes to the Passaic County Surrogate Procedures:

When asked about the procedures at the Passaic County Surrogate Court during the COVID-19 crisis, the following response was received:

Dear Mr. Bressman:

Kindly email the probate fact sheet, a copy of the Will, death certificate and driver’s license of the executor.

Once we create the case, all documents will be forwarded to your office for the executor to sign.

Thank you for your attention.

Yours truly,

Asma Assaf, Probate Clerk, Passaic County Surrogate Court, 71 Hamilton Street, Room 101, Paterson, New Jersey 07505, Tel.: 973-881-4760, Ext. 1207, Fax: 973-523-3449

April 20, 2020 Update on Recent Changes to the Bergen County Surrogate Procedures:

Notice from the Bergen County Surrogates Court regarding filings during this crisis:

[gview file=”https://vanarellilaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Bergen-County-Surrogate-Notice-to-the-Bar.pdf”]

Are the New Jersey courts open? Are pending lawsuits proceeding as usual?

Yes, the courts are operating, but subject to restrictions. No new civil or criminal jury trials will be conducted until further notice. All court hearings, conferences, and arguments will be conducted by video or phone conferencing, and in-person appearances will be permitted only in emergency situations. Discovery deadlines for all civil cases are extended through April 26, 2020. Discovery in family law and divorce cases is extended through April 26, 2020. Landlord/tenant, Special Civil Part, Small Claims and Municipal Court trials are suspended.

Update from the Middlesex County Assignment Judge:

The Middlesex County Assignment Judge issued a Notice with details concerning procedures for filing and handling of cases in Middlesex County now that the courts are closed to in-person proceedings. Middlesex County Court Procedures Depending on the court, cases can be initiated electronically via email or by regular mail or hand-delivery to an outside mailbox. The Court reports that mail is being held for 24 hours before processing.

Have any changes been made to the procedures by which guardianship of an incapacitated adult is obtained during the COVID-19 crisis?

The New Jersey Supreme Court has approved temporary adjustments to the process for seeking an adjudication of incapacity of an adult and the appointment of a guardian of the person and/or estate.

Based on social distancing requirements, the court rules and regulations governing the procedures for obtaining guardianship over incapacitated adults are relaxed to permit examinations and interviews of alleged incapacitated persons (AIP) to be conducted by video or phone. In-person service requirements are suspended, and court pleadings may be served by certified mail, or the contents of the complaint may be read aloud to AIP. In addition, the court-appointed counsel and guardian ad litem may interview the AIP by video or phone instead of meeting in-person, as required by the court rules. The Court now also permits alleged incapacitated persons to participate in all subsequent guardianship hearings via video or phone since in-person court proceedings are currently suspended.

The NJ Supreme Court Notice is attached here – Guardianship Notice to the Bar 4-9-20

My parent or family member lives in an assisted living or nursing home. Am I permitted to visit with them during this crisis?  

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued guidance to all nursing homes, restricting all visitors, except for compassionate care in end-of-life situations; restricting all volunteers and nonessential personnel; and cancelling all group activities and communal dining. While these actions are necessary to prevent the spread of the virus, they can leave families worried and upset and residents feeling isolated and confused.

Families are taking varying tacks to keep in contact with their loved ones, many of whom don’t fully understand why their family is no longer visiting. Nursing homes are also helping to facilitate contact. Some options for keeping in touch, include the following:

  • Phone calls. Phone calls are still an option to be able to talk to your loved one.
  • Window visits. Families who are able to visit their loved one’s window can use that to have in-person visits. You can hold up signs and blow kisses. Talking on a cell phone or typing messages on it and holding them up to the window may be a way to have a conversation.
  • Facetime, Skype or Zoom. Many nursing homes are facilitating video calls with families using platforms like Facetime, Skype or Zoom. Some nursing homes have purchased additional iPads, while others have staff members going between rooms with a dedicated iPad to help residents make calls.
  • Cards and letters. Sending cards and letters to your loved ones is another way to show them that you are thinking of them. Some nursing homes have also set up Facebook pages, where people can send messages to residents.

In this unprecedented time, families will need to get creative to stay in touch with their loved ones.

What other changes have been made in the laws, regulations or practices that impact elders and people with disabilities?

Actions are being taken in response to the COVID-19 pandemic at a dizzying pace. Since March 17, 2020, all local Social Security offices were closed to the public for in-person service.The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Benefits Administration regional offices were closed to the public starting March 19. VA regional offices open, but no longer accept walk-ins. Health care providers are overwhelmed. County welfare offices are urging people to apply on-line and avoid coming into their offices. Meanwhile, although the NJ Department of Human Services announced that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services modified some federal Medicaid requirements that “pose issues or challenges for the health care delivery system” in light of COVID-19, county welfare office processing applications for crucial needs-based government benefits like Medicaid still require applicants to produce missing documents in 10 days under threat of the denial of eligibility. There is a need for the agency to ease certain requirements in light of the present emergency.

Are you still offering free initial consultations?

Yes! We offer free initial consultations available via telephone or videoconference to introduce you to our firm, discuss your general needs, and address how we can serve those needs.

How do I get started?

Just call or email us at dvanarelli@VanarelliLaw.com! Client questionnaires are available on our website. Download one and use your new-found spare time to consider your needs and goals, and to complete the financial and other information requested.

We look forward to serving you, both during this difficult time period and after.
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