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Surrogate's Court preparing for surge of cases

Surrogate Court
Surrogate's Court is located in Old County Hall in downtown Buffalo.

When people die, most have wills. Wills can be complicated masses of executors, assets, families and financial records. During COVID-19, they all have been piling up in Surrogate's Court. But as the courts begin to reopen, Erie County's Surrogate is preparing for the mass of deaths associated with the pandemic.

While more than 500 people are listed as dying from the novel coronavirus in Erie County, it will never be clear how many people died. Everyone agrees there are more than those formally diagnosed. One clue is the higher death rate this spring compared to the average of recent years.

When their survivors want to file their wills, they must deal with a usually complicated process mixed in with the lockdown. The process passes assets along to the next generation, while handling debts and costs. That requires cooperation of financial institutions.

Credit Acea Mosey
Surrogate Judge Acea Mosey is preparing for a surge of cases, as her court reopens.

Surrogate Judge Acea Mosey said, operating virtually, her court has dealt with some of the basic issues of death: burials.

"To make sure that their loved ones that just passed are properly taken care of, and we've been able to do that," she said. "If there's an asset that they can't get to because of a bank or a facility or a brokerage house, they have not come back to us with that, not as of yet. And maybe, I think, it's because people are being more patient in times of need." 

Mosey said her court never quite shut down, with most staff operating from home. As more of the court reopens, she is expecting a surge, as the estates of those hundreds of dead from the virus wind up in her Old County Hall office to be processed by her staff.

Mosey said her staff is ready.

"We will also get a pretty big percentage of a larger amount of cases that will be filed here, but because we have been up and running, virtually, with the help of OCA, we have been able to stay current in our day-to-day business, so we are ready," Mosey said.

Flying in uncertain times, the court has developed a series of procedures, like a virtual court stamp, to keep the process going with banks and other financial institutions who are mixed in with most wills. The court also managed to ensure programs like caring for adults with disabilities and support for minor children kept operating, even with the court system operating virtually.

"We did do some adoptions, virtually. I am very proud of that. I believe we were the first, if not one of the first, to do an adoption, virtually, right before Mother's Day," she said. "And we have had a few of the adoptions since and they have been virtual."

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Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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