How to Probate a Will in Virginia

By Jeffry Olson, J.D.

How to Probate a Will in Virginia

By Jeffry Olson, J.D.

Probate is the legal process that occurs after a person (decedent) dies. This is a requirement whether the decedent has a valid will or not. If the decedent was a Virginia resident and did not have a will, Virginia law determines how his or her assets are distributed. When the decedent does have a valid copy of this legal document, it names an executor—also known as a personal representative—who is responsible for managing the estate. Note, only estates with probate assets totaling $5,000 or more are subject to the process in Virginia.

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Follow these steps to probate a will in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

1. Meet with the Clerk of the Circuit Court.

Virginia does not have a separate probate court, so the county Circuit Courts handle the process. In most cases, the Clerk of the Circuit Court or a deputy court clerk oversees the probate of smaller estates. While circuit court judges are often not involved, a party with an interest in the process may appeal to a judge within six months of the filing of the order of the clerk admitting the will to probate.

The executor named in the document meets with the Clerk of the Circuit Court, bringing the original will and a certified copy of the death certificate. If an executor isn't named, the court will appoint one.

2. Follow executor requirements.

When the executor has been determined, he or she must comply with the legal formalities required. First, the executor takes the oath of office, which the Clerk of the Circuit Court administers.

Second, the executor posts a bond, if the will does not waive this requirement. The bond must be in an amount equal to the value of the probate estate. The executor then receives a certificate of qualification, providing him or her with the legal authority to act on behalf of the estate.

Third, the executor informs any beneficiaries and heirs named, as well as any other individuals closely related to the decedent, that the decedent's will is in probate.

3. Assemble assets of the decedent.

The executor assembles all assets of the deceased. During this process, the executor contacts the decedent's employer, Social Security Administration, and any other agency that may owe money to the estate. If the total value of the estate exceeds $15,000, the executor must submit a list of all assets to the Commissioner of Accounts.

The probate process does not include certain assets, such as:

  • Property owned or held in a revocable trust
  • Real property owned as joint tenants with right of survivorship
  • Retirement accounts and life insurance policies with a previously designated beneficiary
  • Bank accounts with a payable or transfer on death clause
  • Motor vehicles

4. Pay the decedent's bills.

Next, the executor determines if any estate taxes or debts are owed. This includes any final medical and funeral expenses. The executor completes the appropriate tax returns for the estate along with state and federal returns for the deceased's final year of life. All taxes must be paid prior to paying off other debts of the deceased.

5. Distribute remaining assets.

After paying all debts and taxes, the executor distributes the remaining assets to the beneficiaries pursuant to the terms of the will.

6. Close the estate.

When these steps have been completed, the executor closes the estate. While a last will and testament is not legally required, it definitely helps expedite the probate process.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.