How Do You Know if You Are an Heir to a Will in Virginia?

by Marie Murdock
A personal representative usually notifies those named in a will.

A personal representative usually notifies those named in a will.

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A distant relative who resided in Virginia may have been fond of you as a child, had no children of her own and few living relatives. If you kept in touch, exchanged gifts or were mutually affectionate, you may learn of her passing and wonder if she provided for you in her will. It may merely be a matter of waiting to be contacted by a representative of her estate or could take some sleuthing to determine the disposition of her estate in Virginia.

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Personal Representative

A personal representative, often referred to as executor or executrix, is the person named in the will to manage the assets of the deceased for the benefit of the beneficiaries. Her initial responsibility after the will maker's death is to locate the will and present it to Virginia’s circuit court for probate, along with a petition requesting the court qualify her to act. Without the issuance of a certificate of qualification, often called “letters testamentary,” she has no authority. As proponent of the estate, she is required to see to the proper distribution of estate assets and notify anyone named in the will. She is required to make a valiant effort to locate a current address for all interested parties and report those efforts in an affidavit to the court. If unable to locate a beneficiary, she must state in the affidavit that she exercised “reasonable diligence” in her attempts. Contacting local friends and relatives of the deceased to leave a current address might assist a personal representation in locating you if you are named in the will.

Attorney or Financial Institution

If you know the name of the decedent’s attorney, you may contact him. On occasion, a decedent will name her attorney as personal representative, particularly if she has no close relatives. If the attorney is the personal representative, he may be pleased that you have contacted him if he has been unable to reach you. If the attorney is not the personal representative yet did assist the decedent with estate planning, he may not be authorized to provide you with details or information. You could, however, leave your contact information with his office staff in case the personal representative asks for his assistance with probate proceedings. You may also contact the decedent’s bank or other financial institution as she may have named its trust department as personal representative.

Circuit Court

Estates filed with the probate court are public record except in rare instances where they may have been sealed by the court. Check estate filings in the Virginia circuit court where the decedent resided. Clerks may be available and willing to assist with your search. If you find an estate filed for the relative, you may generally review the will and obtain a copy for a minimal fee.

Limited Assets

If assets under a will do not exceed $5,000.00 and you are not an heir at law, the personal representative may not be required to notify you. In this instance, you may be required to initiate contact with other heirs or beneficiaries.