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Estate Administration & Probate in Virginia

by Marc Cormier
Selling a house in Probate

When someone dies, there are a lot of steps to take and decisions to be made, including handling funeral arrangements and notifying friends and family. One of the most important steps to take after the funeral or memorial ceremony is administering the estate of the person who died, according to applicable laws. For residents of Virginia or others who owned property in Virginia at the time of their death, Virginia laws provide the framework for settling the decedent’s estate.

Here are answers to some of the most frequently-asked-questions about probate and estate administration in Virginia:

What is probate?

Probate is the process of “proving” the deceased person’s will in court after their death. If someone died without a valid will, the probate process also handles estate administration and distribution according to Virginia law. During the probate process, the court will appoint someone as the executor or administrator for the decedent’s estate, to administer and distribute the estate.

Is probate always necessary?

No. If probate assets are valued at no more than $50,000, the estate qualifies as a “small estate,” meaning that a formal probate proceeding is not required. 

Who is the executor or administrator, and what do they do?

If someone was nominated as the executor or administrator in the deceased person’s will, they have priority for appointment by the court. If not, or if that person cannot serve, the court will appoint a nominated successor (if any) or an heir. The executor or administrator does not have to be a Virginia resident, but if that person does live out-of-state, a Virginia resident also has to be appointed as the “resident agent.”

The executor or administrator must take an oath and give bond, providing assurance that they will faithfully perform their duties as required by law. The executor’s or administrator’s responsibilities are many, including: 

  • Taking inventory of and safeguarding the deceased’s assets during administration
  • Opening an estate bank account
  • Paying valid debts
  • Handling tax matters
  • Providing ongoing accountings to beneficiaries and the court
  • Distributing assets according to the will or if there is none, Virginia laws
  • Providing a final accounting at the end of the estate administration

What if the deceased owned real estate in Virginia?

If the deceased owned Virginia real estate at the time of their death, either individually or as “tenants in common,” and there was no recorded transfer on death deed naming a beneficiary, then that real estate will become part of the probate estate. Unless granted authority to do so in the will or specifically authorized by the court, the executor or administrator does not have the authority to sell probated real estate. 

If real estate is part of the estate, bringing in a realtor or other real estate expert with experience handling real estate probate matters can be invaluable in helping to ensure the process is handled correctly. 

Where can I learn more?

The Virginia laws concerning the administration of estates contain more than 200 sections. Contacting an experienced estate and probate attorney can help you navigate through the maze of applicable laws.

You can also learn more by visiting the county court’s websites for Arlington County,  Fairfax County, Prince Willliam County or Loudoun County.

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