Virginia Probate Procedure
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Virginia probate procedure is straightforward, though there can be complications when the basic requirements are not met or your particular situation has some anomalies. Virginia probate begins in the Virginia Circuit Court that has jurisdiction over your case, which is the circuit court for the county where the decedent lived when he or she died. You can begin the process by contacting and meeting with the clerk of that circuit court.
Aside from this jurisdiction-specific step, the other steps involved in Virginia probate procedure are usually very similar across all counties in Virginia. You will have to provide the original will (make many copies!), along with evidence of the death and witnesses to the will. Witnesses are especially necessary for holographic wills, those written by hand.
You should also be prepared to state your calculation of the value of the estate by the time probate begins. This value will be the fair market value of the estate's probate assets, including real property and personal property. Note that only property located in Virginia is included for these purposes. If the value of the estate is in excess of $15,000, the clerk will collect a tax of $0.10 for every $100 of value of the estate. You must also be prepared to pay clerk's fees and other costs at the time of probate. Speak to the clerk of the court about fees and other financial considerations if you have any questions.
Avoiding Complications in the Virginia Probate Process
There are several factors that can complicate probate procedure in Virginia. For wills, remember that only originals will be accepted by the clerk. This means that if you can't find the original, you will have to go through a lengthy petitioning process with the court in which a copy of the will must be established as the legitimate one. If you don't have any witnesses available, you will have to find them. If the witnesses are deceased or otherwise unable to come before the court, you will have to prove these facts and either obtain depositions from them or seek evidence from other witnesses to the will and hope that it can suffice.
If your case presents these difficulties, you should consider speaking with an experienced Virginia probate attorney. A skilled attorney can help you navigate the Virginia probate process and offer creative ideas for resolving issues of proof, validity, lost or destroyed wills, and the collection of evidence from witnesses.
For more information, see our article on the Basics of Virginia Probate.