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Step-By-Step Through Virginia Probate

After the death of someone who either lived in Virginia or had real estate in the Commonwealth, someone close to him or her must begin the probate process. Probate proceedings cover the administration of an estate and, eventually, the distribution of assets and property included in the estate. If your parent, grandparent, or loved one has recently passed away, Norton Pelt extends our heartfelt sympathies. Before you must begin the probate process, take a moment to read through our guide on these legal proceedings. 

Probate Is Not Always Needed

Before we dive into the process, it is worth noting that not every asset owned by the decedent must pass through probate, and not every estate must pass through the regular probate process. Assets like pensions, life insurance proceeds, 401(k) plans, and other financial arrangements with beneficiary designations generally are exempt, as are assets with payable-on-death designations and property that is titled to avoid probate. Additionally, assets placed in a trust will generally be distributed by trustees to beneficiaries outside of probate. 

Estates valued under a certain amount may be administered through a simplified probate process. Also, heirs may submit an affidavit to inherit real property if the decedent did not have a Last Will and Testament. 

Step 1: File necessary forms with the Circuit Court. If the decedent left a Will, he or she may have named an executor to handle probate matters. If not, the court will appoint an administrator if the estate must pass through formal administration. The representative, whether an executor or administrator, will file the death certificate with the appropriate circuit court. Typically, the representative also presents the court with a list of heirs and a rough valuation of the estate. The representative cannot proceed until he or she qualifies before the court.  

Step 2: Pay final debts and taxes. Within 30 days of receiving qualification from the court, representatives must notify heirs and beneficiaries. While Virginia does not have an estate tax — and the vast majority of estates are not affected by the federal estate tax — the Commonwealth imposes a probate tax of $1 for every $1,000 of the estate’s estimated value. Some municipalities impose a local tax equal to 1/3 of state probate taxes. The representative will pay off other final debts and taxes. There is also a period in which creditors may claim interests in the estate. 

Step 3: Submit a thorough inventory and distribute assets. Within four months of receiving the certificate of qualification, the representative must submit an inventory of the estate to the Commissioner of Accounts. The Commissioner of Accounts, who is appointed to oversee the disposition of estates, must also receive an annual accounting report within 16 months of the representative’s qualification. 

Finally, the representative may distribute the estate’s probate assets according to the instructions of the Will or state law. Virginia’s intestacy laws dictate which heirs will receive inheritances if the decedent did not leave a Will. The entire process is likely to take approximately 16 months — and that’s for estates with no complexities or surprises. 

We Can Help Get You Through the Process

Norton Pelt understands the need for everyone to grieve after the loss of a loved one. If you are in this situation, we know how overwhelming the tasks ahead may seem. Our team is here to help you efficiently navigate the complicated probate process. Contact Norton Pelt to set up a consultation with our legal team today. 

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