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Virginia Probate – Tips for a New Executor

By Attorney Jennifer D. Kahl on November 17. 2017

Congratulations! Dad trusted you and selected you to be the executor of his estate. But now, Dad has passed away and you are up to your ears in funeral arrangements, bills, and siblings pestering you for their inheritance. Where do you go from here?

First, take a deep breath

Too often I get calls like this: “Help! This is urgent! Dad died last night, and I’m the executor. I need to meet with you tomorrow so that we can get everything started!”

Let’s take a step back and breathe. If Dad passed away last night, you are in no condition to come see me. For one thing, you are so stressed and sad that you won’t remember a word I say. And secondly, there is absolutely no reason to rush. Dad’s house or IRA isn’t going to disappear while you take a few weeks (or months) to grieve with your family. So, plan the funeral, put Dad to rest, spend time with your family, and come back in a few months when you have yourself collected.

Second, see an experienced probate attorney

Just because Dad nominated you to be his executor doesn’t mean that you are the executor yet. No one is an executor until he or she goes down to the courthouse and “qualifies” as such. When you do this, the court will give you papers that show that you are the executor.

Now, just because I told you that you have to go to the courthouse to become the executor doesn’t mean that I actually want you to go do that! On the contrary, I want you to come see me because we may determine that Dad’s estate doesn’t need an executor. Being an executor is a lot of work and a lot of responsibility! Qualifying as executor opens up a formal probate estate that will probably take 1 to 2 years to settle. We want to avoid this if we can!

There are many situations where we can avoid formal probate. For example, if Dad has beneficiary designations on all of his assets, you probably don’t need to qualify as executor. Also, if Dad’s countable probate estate is less than $50,000, there is a good chance that you don’t need to qualify.

So please, don’t rush off to the courthouse before you have consulted with an experienced probate attorney who has told you whether or not you should qualify!

What should you take with you when you visit the attorney?

Of course, you need to bring a copy of Dad’s will. After that, the most important information is about Dad’s finances. Your lawyer needs to know everything Dad owned and what its value was on the date of his death. She also needs to know how that asset is titled (i.e. does it have a joint owner, or is it in the name of a trust), and if it has a beneficiary designation.

At The Heritage Law Group, we send you a list of everything that you need bring, as well as some basic intake forms for you to complete prior to your visit. Please call today so that we can get you on the schedule!

Heritage Law


With over thirty years of combined experience, we proudly serve the Virginia Peninsula, the Middle Peninsula, and Williamsburg. Our goal is to protect the personal and financial relationships that support your family. This includes preparation for times when you may be incapacitated and making arrangements for your family in the event of your death.