Gainesville Probate Lawyers Helping Families Understand and Navigate Through Probate Procedures
While there isn’t an official probate court in Virginia, those who fall under certain requirements will still need to submit to probate before being able to distribute their estate to heirs. Probate proceedings are handled at the county’s Circuit Courts by a deputy clerk, in most cases. An executor is named on the will or appointed by the court as the person in charge of the estate – usually a relative or close friend of the deceased person. If you are preparing to take your loved one’s estate through probate, the Johnson Law Firm, PC, can assist you every step of the way. Here are a few important aspects you need to know about the probate process in Virginia.
Why is Probate Required in Virginia and How Does it Work?
Probate is the official procedure to close out an estate after all debts and taxes are paid. Any assets left behind by the decedent may be subject to probate if they were solely owned without naming any beneficiaries. That means if nobody else’s name is on the papers – either as a co-owner in joint tenancy or as a beneficiary of a payable-on-death or transferable-on-death account, for example – those assets will need to go to probate before being distributed.
The main purpose of probate is to avoid fraud by freezing the estate temporarily so the court can verify that the will is valid, that there is a complete inventory of the properties and assets making up the estate, as well as to make sure any pending debt or taxes are paid and heirs identified before the assets can be transferred and the estate closed.
The probate process begins when the decedent’s will is filed with the probate court in the county where that person resided. Along with the will, you must also file a document called petition for probate, requesting the court to appoint an executor according to the will. If there is no will, the court will appoint someone as the personal representative for the estate. The appointed person will then receive a certificate of qualification giving him or her the authority to act on behalf of the estate.
The executor will need to make an inventory of all the assets, property and debts that are part of the estate. Creditors may come forward and make a claim against the estate, but after six months and once a debt and demand hearing is conducted, any attempt to collect debts from the estate will no longer be accepted. Next, all debts and taxes owed by the estate will be paid, and remaining assets will be distributed to beneficiaries after a petition to close the probate is filed and an order is issued by the court. An executor is entitled to receive payment for the work and time commitment of administering the estate.
Are There Ways to Avoid Probate in Virginia?
There’s no denying that probate is a lengthy, time-consuming process that can also prove to be an expensive endeavor. This leads many people to wonder how to spare their surviving loved ones from the hurdles of going through probate. As mentioned above, there might be cases in which part of an estate can be directly transferred to beneficiaries without probate, while other assets without a beneficiary designation cannot be passed on before they go through probate.
First, small estates with a total valuation of less than $50,000.00 do not need to go through formal probate. Instead, the state of Virginia offers a simplified probate – an abbreviated process that does not require an executor and allows a beneficiary to collect and distribute assets without the need for a formal probate.
What About Joint Assets in Probate?
Assets owned in joint tenancy or tenancy-by-the-entirety do not require probate, as the asset (usually real estate) is co-owned by a surviving spouse who automatically gains full ownership. Bank accounts, retirement accounts and investments with a transfer-on-death or payable-on-death designation will automatically be passed on to the person named on the papers. Any properties or assets placed in a living trust are not subject to probate and get transferred to the beneficiary according to the terms defined by the trustor.
How Can an Experienced Attorney Help?
There are many options to keep your estate out of probate or minimize the amount of assets subject to it. Whether you want to plan ahead and spare your family from the time and money involved with probate in Virginia, or you are already dealing with the prospect of administering your loved one’s estate and navigating probate, you can count on the legal team at the Johnson Law Firm, PC, to guide you every step of the way. We have helped countless clients and their families in Gainesville and surrounding neighborhoods and we are ready to help yours, too. Contact us at (703) 884-8003for a consultation to learn more about how we can assist you.