In Virginia, the probate process is handled by the circuit court in the county where the testator, the person who left the will, lived at the time he died. As of December 2010, probate in Virginia is generally only required when an estate's assets -- minus those that pass directly to a beneficiary, such as life insurance and real estate with rights of survivorship -- total more than $5,000.
Call the circuit court clerk in the appropriate county and make an appointment to meet with him. Take the original will and a certified copy of the death certificate with you. If the will is not self-proved with a separate notarized statement that it is authentic, you must also take at least one of the will’s witnesses with you to attest to that effect. When you meet with the clerk, you must give him an estimate of the estate’s value and pay a probate tax, 10 cents for every $100 of value.
Read More: What to Do With a Will After a Death
Take an oath of office as executor of the estate and post a bond. If you are not the only beneficiary in the will or the testator hasn’t waived this requirement, the bond must equal to the value of the estate to insure against any wrongdoing on your part while you are in office. The clerk will give you a certificate of qualification authorizing you to act on the estate’s behalf.
Send written notice to all beneficiaries and heirs, or those closely related to the testator who would have inherited if he had died without a will. The notice advises them that the will is in probate and that you have been appointed as executor. You have 30 days to do this. You can get a preprinted form for the notice and instructions for completing it from the circuit court clerk. It should include a statement that just because someone is receiving the notice, it does not necessarily mean he is going to receive a bequest.
Secure the testator’s property and gather all assets. Contact insurance companies, his employer, Social Security and the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, if applicable, to arrange payment of any death payments due to the estate. Within four months of taking office, you must submit a list of all assets, complete with their values, with the county’s Commissioner of Accounts, an attorney appointed by the court to monitor the probate process, unless the total value of the estate is less than $15,000.
Determine who the testator owed money to, if anyone. Confer with an accountant to find out if estate taxes are due. If so, have returns prepared for the estate, as well as individual state and federal returns for any income the deceased earned in the last year of her life. Pay all taxes due first before you begin paying off the deceased’s debts.
Distribute the estate’s remaining assets to the beneficiaries in the will. They cannot demand that you do this until six months have passed since the date of the testator’s death and you should wait until all debts and taxes have been paid before you disburse the bequests. You can then close the estate.
Beverly Bird is a practicing paralegal who has been writing professionally on legal subjects for over 30 years. She specializes in family law and estate law and has mediated family custody issues.