In Virginia, as in most states, a will must be submitted to the court for probate so that it may be declared valid. When someone dies, their personal representative cannot just walk into a bank with the will in hand and demand the money of the deceased. The personal representative must first be qualified by the court and issued a certificate of qualification. This certificate can be used to access the assets of the deceased. Probate is an open and public process. Sometimes the process can be delayed for various reasons. Because of this, some people choose to create trusts or use other estate planning mechanisms which avoid the need for probate.
General probate requirements in Virginia
In Virginia, a will must be in writing and signed by the decedent or on the decedents behalf in his or her presence and by his or her direction. Virginia recognizes both holographic and witnessed wills. A holographic will is a will which is written entirely in the testator's handwriting. Under the Virginia code, a duly executed witnessed will requires the signature of two witnesses who were present at the same time.
What documentation is needed for probate in Virginia?
In order to ensure that the qualification process goes smoothly the personal representative or proponent of the will should gather the necessary documents prior to submitting the will for probate. The proponent must first make sure that they have the original will. This may sound elementary, but I have seen instances where the family only has a copy of the will and not the original. This can sometimes delay the qualification process and cause more expense to the estate. The proponent of the will should also have a certified copy of the death certificate. I often advise families to get multiple certified copies of the death certificate. The family will often need additional certified copies to present to the different agencies or companies the deceased had accounts with. The proponent of the will also has to submit a list of heirs. This is a list of the individuals who would be the decedent's heirs under the Virginia statute of dissent and distribution if the will was not in place.
I understand that you are probably going through a difficult time after the loss of your loved one. Many people find this time to be very overwhelming, and that is understandable. If you feel that this time is too emotionally difficult, please seek support or counseling. If you would like to talk more about how I may provide legal assistance, please give me a call. I find the administration of estates to be among the more rewarding legal work that I do because it allows me to lighten the burden and provide support to people who are grieving.
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