Greenwood Probate Judge Travis Moore has seen firsthand the difficulties that families face when a loved one is hospitalized from COVID-19. If proper paperwork is not in order, the process of making decisions on that loved one’s behalf can be difficult.
“What we have been seeing is families who are in crisis because a loved one is in the hospital and cannot take care of their financial situation,” Moore said. “A lot of people don’t have joint accounts, don’t have a power of attorney.”
He said his office would have to grant a conservatorship in those circumstances.
“Our office has seen a huge uptick on that side of it,” Moore said.
Moore said not having a properly prepared will can also lead to some difficulties in an untimely death.
“When someone passes away without a will in South Carolina — half of their estate goes to their spouse, half goes to their children,” Moore said.
If the person has young children, this could present a problem for the spouse.
“The remaining spouse can’t sell it, can’t mortgage it, without coming to court to get a guardian ad litem to do all that,” Moore said.
To avoid getting stuck in a situation where decisions cannot be easily made, Moore said to go ahead and get a power of attorney and a will.
Some might think a Google search for wills and estate planning will lead to a simple and easy way to have things in order. Moore disagrees.
“It is important to go to a lawyer,” he said.
He said Greenwood has many lawyers capable of assisting with the process.
“It’s worth the little extra money to get a lawyer to do it,” Moore said.
He said the last thing a family needs during a time of grief is to have a will that does not meet South Carolina requirements.
“If it doesn’t meet proper requirements, then you are deemed to have died without a will,” he said.
Moore estimated that only half of those who use probate court have wills while the others do not.
“What COVID has done is make people realize that how they need to have their affairs in order,” Moore said. “Death can come at any time.”
Moore said it is important to go to a lawyer and get your financial affairs in order.
“If you don’t have a will, it will just complicate it for the whole family,” he said.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the court has found a way to continue to operate. Moore said they have virtual hearings.
“We are operating at full steam,” Moore said.
Probate Court is also facing another issue. Moore said the court is running out of room to store files.
“We are getting inundated with more files,” Moore said.
He said as deaths have increased so has the number of files in the file room. Moore said he is hoping to work on a solution to the court’s filing woes with the county.
He said probate court has also seen an increase in mental health filings. In South Carolina, mental health orders, such as orders of detention, go through probate court.
The mental health division handles about 250 cases annually, according to estimates on the county’s website.