Probate FAQs

Frequently Asked Probate Questions

Answers from Our Virginia Probate Lawyers

When you are considering a solid, legally binding estate plan or if you have lost a loved one and are facing the probate process, our team at Johnson, Gasink & Baxter, LLP can assist you. With 50 years of combined experience and a reputation for client service, our partners have the knowledge and skill to answer your questions.

Read our answers below. If you have other questions, schedule a personalized consultation when you contact our firm at 888.487.9899. We have office locations in Williamsburg and Richmond, as well as satellite offices in Virginia Beach.

What is probate?

Probate is the process by which heirs take title to a deceased person’s assets. The court appoints a Personal Representative to make sure that heirs and creditors are notified, that claims are heard, and that assets are properly stewarded and distributed.

Do I need an attorney?

A Personal Representative can act alone without professional guidance in Virginia. In our experience, hiring an attorney saves the executor time, stress, and often money caused by unnecessary fees and delays.

I need help with probate, what do I do?

Johnson, Gasink & Baxter, LLP helps Personal Representatives who want to relieve the stress and confusion of Probate by taking advantage of the advice and expertise of our dedicated professionals. By hiring an attorney, you get a guide to help you navigate Probate and protect yourself from the liability inherent in being a Personal Representative.

How does probate work in Virginia?

Although the initial meeting happens at the courthouse, subsequent filings are sent to the Commissioner of Accounts, who is an attorney appointed by a judge to review Probate filings in a county. The series of filings typically begin a month or so after death and continues for 18-24 months, though the experience of every estate is different.

How do I file an accounting?

You need to file an accounting within 16 months of your initial qualification meeting which shows the Commissioner of Accounts exactly what has happened to each cent of each asset in the estate. The forms are available online but are deceptively complex, and the requirements for documentation can be burdensome.

What is a Commissioner of Accounts?

In many states, Probate is a judicial process. Virginia is a unique hybrid. While the Circuit Court opens the Probate, the process is quickly turned over to the local Commissioner of Accounts to review and approve (or reject) Inventories and Accountings. A Commissioner of Accounts is the attorney appointed by a judge to review Probate filings in a county or city. They serve indefinitely at the pleasure of the head circuit court judge.

What is a Personal Representative?

‘Personal Representative’ is the modern name for ‘executor.’ An executor executes the instructions left in a Will an administrator administers an intestate estate (i.e. no Will). The term Personal Representative covers both these offices and some others. It identifies the individual designated by and responsible to the court for an estate.

When do I get my share of the estate?

This is the most common estate question we receive from heirs. In short, you receive your share when everyone else does, after the bills are paid and claims against the estate have had time to develop and be resolved. Typically an estate is closed within two to three years. During that time the beneficiaries may get their share in a few installments.

Where do I go first?

Probate begins when the Will is admitted to the court. To start the process, you call the Probate Clerk at the Circuit Court to make an appointment to admit the Will to Probate and qualify as Personal Representative. For the qualification meeting, you will need to bring the original Will, a raised-seal death certificate, your checkbook to pay initial fees, and identification.

If you live out of state, you will need to arrange for bond and a local attorney to serve as resident agent. Upon qualification, you get a letter from the court (called a letter of qualification or letter testamentary) empowering you to take control of the assets. In exchange, you promise to personally guarantee the value of the estate.

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