Probate is a legal procedure that involves proving the validity of a will in court and administering the decedent's estate according to the terms of their last will and testament. While it may sound fairly simple on the surface, the process itself decidedly is not.
Probating an estate can be extremely difficult. Not only is probate lengthy, complicated, and costly, but it can also be emotionally trying and even contentious. Making it through the process unscathed requires having skilled legal guidance and strong representation at every turn. Fortunately, you've come to the right law firm for help.
Exceptional Virginia Estate Planning and Probate Attorneys
At Cucinelli Geiger, PC, our estate planning and probate attorneys have the knowledge, experience, and emotional intelligence needed to successfully guide clients through each and every step of this unfamiliar and often confusing process. We're a trusted name in estate planning and administration law, having served the community for more than 15 years. Facing probate with trepidation? Here's what you should know—and how we can assist you.
Virginia Probate Basics
Trying to learn everything you need to know about probate and estate administration can be overwhelming. Here are a few key points to keep in mind:
- While some states have separate courts dedicated to hearing probate matters, Virginia does not. Instead, estates are probated in the circuit court of the city or county where the decedent resided prior to their death.
- Virginia law doesn't specify a deadline for when the probate process should begin. However, because the process itself can be lengthy, it's wise to file in a timely manner, generally between one and four weeks following the funeral.
- How long it takes to complete probate can depend on a variety of factors, including the size of the estate, the amount of outstanding debt and taxes, the number of beneficiaries, if there are any tax issues, and whether the will is contested or not.
- The duties and responsibilities of an estate executor or administrator can be numerous, complicated, and time-consuming. As a result, the individual or entity serving in this important role can collect a fee, which is subject to court approval. The fee may be set in the will or by the court.
- Did your loved one die intestate (without a will)? Their estate will still have to go through probate, and, unfortunately, the lack of a last will and testament can make the process even more complicated.
Steps in the Virginia Probate Process
If you have to probate a loved one's will and don't know where to start, here is a brief overview of each step.
Meet With the Circuit Court Clerk
Probate proceedings in Virginia are typically handled by the circuit court clerk (or a deputy court clerk) rather than a judge. If your loved one left a will in which you were named executor, you would need to attend a meeting with the court clerk and present the original will, as well as a certified copy of the decedent's death certificate.
Anyone can serve as an executor, provided that they are older than 18 and physically and mentally able to perform the wide-ranging duties that come with the role.
In the event that there wasn't a will, the will didn't name an executor, or the named individual was unqualified or unable to complete their duties, the court can appoint a person or institution to administer the estate.
Follow the Requirements to Be an Estate Executor or Administrator
An estate executor or administrator must follow very specific legal requirements, including taking an oath of office administered by the circuit court clerk. In some cases, they may have to post a surety bond equal to the value of the probate estate. However, wills often waive the requirement for a bond.
Once you've complied with these stipulations, you'll receive a certificate of qualification that allows you to act on the estate's behalf. Your next steps will be to inform named heirs and beneficiaries as well as the decedent's other close relatives that the will is in probate.
Assemble Estate Assets
Marshaling the estate's assets is a complicated process that requires contacting the decedent's employer, the Social Security Administration, and other individuals or agencies to collect money owed to the estate. For estates valued at more than $15,000, the executor must submit a complete accounting of assets to the Commissioner of Accounts.
Pay Estate Debts
Before assets can be distributed to beneficiaries, they must first be used to pay any applicable estate taxes or debts, such as the deceased's final medical expenses and funeral and burial costs. As executor, you'll also be tasked with completing state and federal tax returns for the final year of your loved one's life, as well as tax returns for the state.
Distribute Remaining Assets
Once the estate's taxes and debts have been satisfied, you can begin the complicated process of distributing assets to named heirs and beneficiaries according to the terms of the will. In the absence of a will, remaining assets are distributed by intestate succession rules.
Close the Estate
The final step in the probate and estate administration process is closing the estate. This involves providing the Commissioner of Accounts with a final accounting, showing that all taxes and debts have been paid, remaining assets were distributed to beneficiaries, and the estate account has a zero balance.
The Benefits of Working With a Lawyer to Settle an Estate
Not only is probate and estate administration complicated, but with potential pitfalls around every corner, there's far too much at stake to go it alone. We can provide the professional fiduciary services and peace of mind your family deserves after the loss of a loved one. Contact us today to schedule a consultation to discuss your probate and estate administration needs with a member of our nationally recognized legal team.