Focus On

Nova Scotia Probate Court expands ‘essential services model’

Thursday, April 23, 2020 @ 12:51 PM | By Terry Davidson

Last Updated: Thursday, April 23, 2020 @ 4:33 PM

In yet another bid to head off a future backlog, Nova Scotia’s Probate Court is now accepting applications for grants of probate and administration during the COVID-19 crisis.

As of April 22, the court began “expanding its essential services model to allow new applications for Grants of Probate and Grants of Administration to be filed during the COVID-19 pandemic,” states a news release. “Registers of Probate will also offer new dates for passing accounts.”

Probate proceedings across Nova Scotia are heard by Supreme Court justices and the province’s Registrar of Probate.

On April 9, the probate courts had stopped accepting new grant applications unless it was deemed an “urgent and essential” matter, citing the Supreme Court’s adoption of an essential services model because of the pandemic.

This new directive states that original wills and applications for grants “must be filed as paper copies,” but that all other probate paperwork should be filed electronically, as outlined in a previous Supreme Court directive.  

“Until further notice, and unless the Probate Act Regulations indicate otherwise, the Probate Court will permit personal service to be effected by email during the pandemic,” it states.

“The Probate Court will also allow accommodations for the commissioning of affidavits in circumstances where it is not possible or is medically unsafe for the deponent to physically attend before a commissioner. The directions on preparing virtual affidavits are outlined in the April 2, 2020, directive of the Supreme Court.”

But the release warns of possible delays — particularly in the Halifax region — due to the justice system operating with a “significantly reduced staff” due to the ongoing health crisis.

“All estates filed with the Registry will be processed in the order received,” it states. “All hearings in the Probate Court will be conducted by telephone, unless cross-examination of a witness is required. … Whenever possible, counsel and the parties are asked to use a secure landline for these appearances, however, the Court recognizes that may not always be possible. If you must use a cell phone, please do so in a stable location with good cellular reception.”

Any questions on filing probate documents or the hearing of such matters should go to the Registrar of Probate in the applicable area.

On April 21, Nova Scotia’s Supreme Court began accepting non-urgent civil motions electronically and the hardcopy filing of uncontested divorces and consent orders.

At the time, Nova Scotia Judiciary communications director Jennifer Stairs said “the courts recognized that [they] would have to start considering ways to allow more matters to be filed and heard during the pandemic to help deal with the backlog of adjourned matters when the courts return to regular operations.”