In order to clarify outdated and inappropriate legal guidelines and streamline the Territory’s slow probate process, the Senate Rules and Judiciary Committee passed a bill Thursday that will adopt the Uniform Probate Code currently enacted in 19 states.
In the U.S. Virgin Islands, probate, the legal proceeding in which a court determines how an estate will be divided, can sometimes take up to 20 or 30 years. This long and arduous process has been known to deplete estates of any monies while properties stand empty and dilapidated due to years of legal wrangling.
According to Dan Gravel, an attorney with Tom Bolt & Associates, P.C. who concentrates his practice in trusts and estates and who testified in favor of the bill, the Uniform Probate Code (UPC) “will lessen the burden on courts and on families who have to navigate the probate process.”
"The UPC addresses probate timelines, allowing an estate to be opened in as little as seven days following an individual’s death and completed in six months or less, barring any dispute of the will." Gravel stated to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary. "This legislation also sets a three-year time limit on filing an estate claim, prohibiting creditors from showing up after the three-year period or any attempts to introduce another will."
In the event that an heir cannot be located and property is sold, the proceeds due to that heir will be held by the Lt. Governor’s office for 10 years, after which the money reverts to the government.
Lawyers in the territory and members of the V.I. Uniform Law Commission have been working on the UPC for 10 years.
Attorney Gravel, testifying on behalf of the V.I. Bar Association, stated, “The enactment of the UPC will bring efficient to our long antiquated probate process.”
In addition to the UPC, the bill also includes three additional acts deemed instrumental in regulating and streamlining the probate process: the Uniform Power of Attorney Act, the Uniform Prudent Management of Institutional Funds Act, and the Uniform Custodial Trust Act.