Q: What is probate?
A: Probate is the court-supervised process of paying the debts of a deceased person ("decedent") and distributing property from the decedent to the beneficiaries of the estate. It may include admitting a Will to the court, if the decedent died with a Will, or it may be administering the estate through "intestacy," if the decedent died without a valid Will. An Executor or Administrator is the person appointed by court to administer the estate.
Q: When is probate required?
A: Probate is not always required to administer a decedent's estate. Examples of property that does not require probate include: assets titled to joint tenants with right of survivorship; assets with "payable on death" or beneficiary designations, and assets titled to the decedent’s Living Trust. Only property owned solely in the name of the decedent with no beneficiary designation is subject to probate.
Q: How do I start the probate process?
A: To begin probate, you must appear before the clerk of the appropriate circuit court to present proof of death, usually a certified copy of the death certificate for the decedent. If there is a valid Will, you must present the original Will for admission to probate. In Virginia, if the Will does not have a self-proving affidavit attached to it, you must "prove" the decedent's signature. You can do this by bringing at least one of the witnesses who signed the Will to appear before the clerk and testify under oath, or by obtaining depositions from the witnesses to the Will. If there is no Will, the laws of Virginia determine the beneficiaries to the estate and prescribe all rules for administration.