signing a last will and testamentIf you don't have a will, you are not alone. More than half of the adults in the United States don't have a will or estate plan, according to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). Whether they don't think they own enough assets, are intimidated by the process, or are uncomfortable thinking about their own mortality, estate planning is one of the most important tasks that people tend to put off.

Unfortunately, dying without a will or estate plan can have significant consequences—not for you, of course, but for your estate and your family. Here's what you need to know about the intestate succession process in Virginia and how Cucinelli Geiger's experienced probate attorneys can help.

Dying Without a Will

If you die without a valid last will and testament, known as dying intestate, the property and other assets in your estate will be distributed according to the commonwealth's intestate succession laws rather than your wishes. After the appointed administrator settles the estate's debts, what remains will be passed to your statutory heirs, regardless of whether you were close to them or would have wanted them to be your beneficiaries. Situations like these can complicate estate administration, leading to costly and lengthy legal battles and delaying the distribution of inheritances.

Determining Which Assets Pass by Intestate Succession

Intestate succession laws don't apply to all assets. Typically these statutes dictate the transfer of property in your name that would have been passed through a last will and testament. Examples of assets that aren't affected by intestate succession include:

  • Life insurance proceeds
  • Property that's been transferred to a living trust
  • Funds in an IRA, 401(k), or another retirement account
  • Securities held in a transfer-on-death account
  • Payable-on-death bank accounts
  • Property you own with someone else

The above assets will pass to the named beneficiary (or, in cases of joint ownership, to the surviving owner) regardless of whether you have a valid will.

Virginia Intestate Succession Estate Distribution

If you die intestate, who gets your property largely depends on whether you have a surviving spouse or living children, parents, or other close relatives.

  • When you have a surviving spouse and heirs who are descendants of that spouse, your spouse inherits everything.
  • When you have surviving children but no spouse, your children inherit everything.
  • When you have a surviving spouse but no descendants (children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren), your spouse inherits everything.
  • When you have a surviving spouse and descendants, but one or more of the descendants aren't descendants of the spouse, your surviving spouse inherits one-third of the intestate property, while descendants receive equal shares of the remainder.
  • When you have no surviving spouse or children, your parents inherit everything.
  • When you have siblings but no spouse or parents, your siblings inherit your intestate assets.

Special Situations

Virginia families come in all different shapes and sizes. Here are a few important things to note:

  • Legally adopted children are entitled to the same share of intestate assets as biological children.
  • Foster children and stepchildren who were not legally adopted don't automatically receive an inheritance under intestate succession laws; however, stepchildren may have the right to inherit if there are no other beneficiaries.
  • Half relatives, such as half-siblings, are entitled to half the inheritance that a sibling who shared both parents would receive.

Helping Families Navigate the Complex Intestate Succession Process

If you recently lost a loved one who didn't leave a will or estate plan, Cucinelli Geiger's exceptional attorneys can guide your family through the complex and emotional intestate succession process in Virginia. Or, if you're considering planning your estate and reach out to us now, we can help your family avoid this process entirely. Find out how we can help you take control of who receives your hard-earned assets when you're gone.

Schedule a Consultation

Contact us today to schedule a consultation to discuss your estate planning or probate legal needs.