Woodbridge Probate Lawyers Answering Complicated Questions and Providing Compassionate Guidance
When someone dies in Virginia, their estate may need to go through a court-supervised process that gives an executor the authority to gather the deceased person’s assets, pay off any debts and taxes, and distribute them to beneficiaries according to the decedent’s wishes. This process is called probate. An executor may choose to hire a probate attorney to provide help and guidance throughout the process.
Is Probate Mandatory in Virginia?
At the Johnson Law Firm, PC, our clients often ask us whether their deceased loved one’s assets will need to undergo mandatory probate proceedings. In reality, not every asset in a decedent’s estates will require probate – only those who were owned solely by the deceased person, without any named beneficiaries.
Some examples of assets that do not require probate include bank accounts and retirement accounts with a transferable-on-death (TOD) or payable-on-death (POD) designation, assets in joint tenancy with a spouse, life insurance proceeds, and assets held in a revocable trust. In case the decedent’s estate included assets with a total value of $50,000.00 or less, the state allows for a simplified probate process that does not require a court to administer the assets and allows the will to simply be recorded in court without the need for a formal executor to be appointed. Any other property including real estate that did not have a secondary beneficiary designated on the document or was in any way solely owned by the deceased person will require probate before it can be passed on.
How Long Does Probate Take in Virginia?
Most estates can take an average of six months to a year to complete probate and be closed. This is due to many factors, including a required six-month waiting period for any creditors to come forward regarding pending debts left by the deceased person. The existence of a will or trust, the total size and complexity of the estate and the existence of any family disputes can slow down the probate process.
Complex estates with unusual assets or items that are hard to valuate can also mean a longer probate process. Dying without a will or estate plans can also cause delays in your property being distributed, and it will undergo a process called intestate probate.
How Much Will Probate Cost in Virginia?
If your loved one’s estate requires probate, you might be concerned about the total cost of this process. The answer depends again on the specifics of the estate and on whether you have chosen to hire someone to assist you.
If the estate is complex and involves multiple assets, investments and real estate properties, it might be necessary to hire outside experts such as attorneys, accountants or appraisers to help navigate the probate process, put together an accurate inventory of everything in the estate (with proper valuations) and to get a clear picture of debts and taxes owed. An executor is not expected to pay out of pocket for these professionals; instead, the estate will need to cover all costs. There are also court filing fees and the executor’s compensation fees.
Probate can be an expensive and time-consuming process and costs are hard to determine. If the estate does not have enough funds to cover all expenses, then beneficiaries will be responsible for them. This is another reason why many engage in estate planning early with the goal of avoiding probate and ensuring that most of their assets get transferred directly to heirs by using estate planning strategies such as living trusts.
How Can I Avoid Probate In Virginia?
As mentioned above, smaller estates may be able to go through a simplified probate or avoid it for the most part if assets are valued at less than $50,000.00. For those who have large estates with complex assets, it might be beneficial to plan in advance in order to avoid most costs associated with probate. In this case, planning ahead is the key for success.
Besides ensuring you add a second beneficiary to assets with a transfer-on-death option such as retirement accounts and bank accounts, you can also add a spouse as a joint tenant to the family home or any piece of real estate owned by both spouses. Another popular option is setting up a living trust and transferring assets into the trust, then assigning a trustee to receive them when you pass away.
At the Johnson Law Firm, PC, we have the knowledge and skills to help you navigate through probate and also to craft an effective estate plan tailored to your needs. Our goal is to help you maximize the legacy you leave for the next generation while minimizing taxes and the need for probate. Contact our Woodbridge office today at 703-670-0761to learn your options and get started.