Even if you are named as the executor of a will in Virginia, you still are required to take certain steps to "qualify" under Virginia law before you officially become the executor of the estate of the deceased. The requirements for qualifying can be relatively easy or difficult, depending on the circumstances. Based on the complexity and size of the estate, it might take one year or more to complete your duties as an executor. The term executrix is sometimes used to describe a female executor.
As Virginia attorney Tom Leggette's website explains, probate is a court process to carry out the wishes of a person who has died in regard to his assets. If you are named in the will as the executor of the estate, and qualify under Virginia law, you are charged with performing the all of the duties required by probate.
The Fairfax County Court website describes an executor as a personal representative of the deceased. In addition to paying debts and taxes and dispensing the remaining assets to the beneficiaries named in the will, the executor is responsible for funeral arrangements. An executor has a duty to act in best interests the deceased, by carrying out his wishes, and to the beneficiaries of the estate. You can ask the probate court for a reasonable fee for your services as executor.
To officially qualify as the executor in Virginia, contact the clerk's office at county courthouse in the county where the deceased resided. The clerk's office will make an appointment for you to meet with a probate clerk at the courthouse. The Fairfax County Courthouse suggests showing up 45 minutes early -- if you are late, the clerk's office may cancel your appointment. Bring all of the necessary paperwork with you. The interview with the clerk usually last 45 to 60 minutes.
A number of items are required by the clerk's office in order to quality you as the executor. You need to bring the original copy of the will, a certified copy of the death certificate, an approximate estimate of the value of the personal property and real estate owned in Virginia by the deceased, the names and addresses of the heirs of the deceased, who may or may not be beneficiaries, and your photo ID. You also might need to bring witnesses to the signing of the will. If you don't live in Virginia, you'll need a Virginia resident to accompany you to the meeting to be named as a co-qualifier. You might have to post a surety bond -- an financial instrument akin to an insurance policy that protects the interests of the beneficiaries to the will -- depending on the size of the estate.
If the executor named in the will has died, and a joint or secondary executor was not named in the will, a beneficiary to the estate may ask to be qualified as the executor. The prospective executor must bring a certified copy of the death certificate of the named executor to the qualifying appointment with the probate clerk. A beneficiary of the estate also can ask to qualify if the executor named in the will refuses to qualify.
If the deceased doesn't leave a will, a personal representative, known as an administrator, can be qualified by a probate clerk in the appropriate county. Preference is given to the surviving spouse and then to other heirs of the deceased.
Jim Thomas has been a freelance writer since 1978. He wrote a book about professional golfers and has written magazine articles about sports, politics, legal issues, travel and business for national and Northwest publications. He received a Juris Doctor from Duke Law School and a Bachelor of Science in political science from Whitman College.