What Does It Mean to be an Executor of Estate in Richmond, Virginia?

When AJ agreed to be the executor (also known as the personal representative) in his widowed father’s estate, he’d been busy raising a young family, providing for his wife and children, and climbing the corporate ladder. To put his father’s mind at ease, he accompanied him to the office of the estate attorney, where he didn’t ask many questions or pay too close attention to the responsibilities he would take on as the named executor.

Now, nearly 20 years later, AJ is grieving the loss of his father and wondering what to do with his last will and testament. How can he be sure he complies with estate law in Virginia? Is he personally liable if he makes a mistake? Should he look for an estate administration attorney near his home in Richmond to help him understand Virginia state law, an executor’s job, and how to do right by each beneficiary?

Like AJ, are you a designated executor in someone’s will and uncertain about your responsibilities? You’re not alone. Many family members and others who have accepted this responsibility do not know what an executor of estate does or how to serve in this capacity. Furthermore, some complex estates require full administration, while others are relatively simple to administer.

This blog, from an experienced estate administration lawyer from PJI Law, PLC, in Richmond, Virginia, explains an executor’s responsibilities and how an attorney can guide you through this complicated legal process. Continue reading to learn more, then contact us at (804) 653-3450 for personalized service and attention.

Who Can Serve as an Executor/Personal Representative of a Virginia Estate?

Any competent adult over 18 can serve as an executor. During the estate planning process, many people designate a spouse or a family member as their executor. However, they can also choose to appoint a professional executor or a lawyer to handle their estate administration after their death.

Executors must be responsible, trustworthy, and willing to fulfill the duties of an estate representative. Anyone who takes on the executor role is legally obligated to promote the best interest of the decedent’s (deceased individual) estate according to their will. Violating the law could lead to the executor’s removal and dire legal consequences, including lawsuits, fines, and even jail time.

In some cases, the appointed executor may be required to obtain a bond to fulfill their duties, as they have been entrusted with the person’s estate and all property contained within it. A bond guarantees that executors will obey the law and fulfill their responsibility to distribute the estate’s assets.

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Initiating Probate According to Virginia Probate Law

Probate is the legal process of distributing the estate of a deceased person. After their death, the executor of the deceased person’s estate can start the probate process by scheduling an appointment with the Clerk of the Circuit Court in the proper jurisdiction. In addition to other information, the will’s designated executor must take the original will and a certified copy of the death certificate to the probate appointment.

After keeping the appointment and qualifying before the Clerk, the executor has the authority to administer the decedent’s estate. Once the Clerk determines that they are indeed qualified, they will issue Certificates of Qualification, also known as letters testamentary – a written document with the Court’s seal authorizing the executor to act on the estate’s behalf.

Duties of An Executor

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Among other duties, a qualified estate executor must:

Send Notice of Probate

The executor must send a Notice of Probate to all beneficiaries and heirs within 30 days of qualifying before the Clerk of the Court. The notice informs each beneficiary about the opening of probate. The appointed executor must also file an affidavit with the Clerk within four months, proving they gave notice.

Open an Estate Checking Account

When opening a checking account for the estate, the executor must give the bank a death certificate, certificate of qualification, and provide the tax identification number for the estate that they have obtained from the Internal Revenue Service.

Next, the executor must transfer the contents of the decedent’s personal bank accounts to the estate checking account, keeping thorough records of each bank account transaction. When the probate process ends, any funds remaining after paying estate taxes, valid debts, or other fees, will be distributed to the beneficiaries.

Locate the Person’s Assets

An executor must locate and protect any estate assets passing through probate. This effort generally excludes accounts that pass directly to beneficiaries, property the decedent previously co-owned with a surviving spouse, and property in revocable living trusts.

Establish Date-of-Death Values

The executor must determine the value of all assets belonging to the estate. Ordering appraisals of any real property or business assets of disputable value is often recommended. Accurately valuing probate assets is indispensable; however, even non-probate assets could potentially require valuation if the estate owes estate taxes. Why? A taxable estate includes probate and non-probate assets.

File Inventory of the Decedent’s Property and Assets

The executor must take inventory of the decedent’s probate estate and file it with the Commissioner of Accounts within four months. For small estates, this requirement can sometimes be waived.

Prepare and File Final Income and Estate Tax Returns

The executor must prepare any federal and state tax documentation on the decedent’s behalf, including personal income tax returns and estate tax returns.

Pay Bills, Claims Against Estate, and Administrative Expenses

The executor must pay the estate administration expenses, including appraisal, court, and estate attorney fees, using funds in the estate checking account. If necessary, the executor may also be tasked with selling property or other estate assets to fulfill these financial obligations. Aside from satisfying any tax obligations, the executor must pay the deceased’s final bills and debts and any claims against the estate.

File Annual Accounting 

These accountings inform the Probate Court of the executor’s actions on behalf of the estate. The executor must submit the first accounting within 16 months, which covers the first year of probate. If subsequent accountings are required, they are due within four months of the end of the accounting period of the executor’s preference — but no later than 12 months after the last accounting was due. It requires filing all the necessary documentation, such as a list of all probate assets with their values at the beginning of the account period and proof of any receipts, disbursements, or distributions the representative received or made.

Distribute Assets to Beneficiaries

After discharging all debts, fees, and taxes, the executor will distribute the estate balance to the beneficiaries. Asset distribution to beneficiaries usually takes place at the end of the probate process.

How a Richmond Estate Administration Attorney Can Help Estate Executors

A Richmond, Virginia estate administration attorney can help estate executors with:

  • Identifying, securing, and obtaining appraisals for estate assets
  • Collecting life insurance policy proceeds
  • Discharging debts and bills
  • Preparing and filing all probate court documents
  • Managing the estate account
  • Handling all of the steps in the probate process

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What About Guardians for Minor Children Named in the Will?

When a will contains guardian designations for minor children, a Richmond VA estate administration lawyer can assist the executor with making a smooth transition.

  1. Legal Guidance: An estate attorney can provide legal guidance on interpreting the guardian designations outlined in the will, explain the responsibilities and legal implications, and ensure the executor fully understands their role in the process.
  2. Court Procedures: If the designated guardians need to be officially appointed by the court, estate administration attorneys can navigate the necessary legal procedures, including preparing and filing the required documentation with the court.
  3. Communication: An estate attorney can facilitate communication between the executor, the designated guardians, and any other relevant parties involved in the guardianship process. Clear communication ensures that everyone knows what their roles and responsibilities entail.
  4. Conflict Resolution: In cases where there may be disagreements or disputes regarding the guardian designations or the care of the children, the estate administration lawyer can help mediate and resolve conflicts to protect the best interests of the children.
  5. Compliance with Laws: The lawyer ensures that all actions taken concerning the guardianship of children are in compliance with Virginia laws and regulations. They help the executor uphold the wishes expressed in the will while adhering to legal requirements.
  6. Documentation and Record-Keeping: Keeping accurate records of all communications, decisions, and actions taken regarding the guardian designations is crucial. The lawyer can assist the executor in maintaining detailed documentation to ensure transparency and accountability throughout the process.

Should I Begin Estate Planning Now?

Individuals 18 and over of all income levels should create an estate plan with the help of an experienced estate planning attorney. As a qualified attorney can attest, the estate planning process involves more than just a will, although it is the foundation of a comprehensive estate plan.

The documents required will vary depending on the individual, but with the guidance of trust and estate counsel, who will ask the right questions, listen to your answers, consider your unique circumstances, then make recommendations, your estate plan could potentially include:

  • A last will and testament
  • Revocable Living Trust
  • Advance medical directives
  • Powers of attorney
  • Business succession planning
  • Transfer-on-death deeds

Many attorneys claim to be estate planners. When choosing an estate planning attorney, read online reviews, ask for references from other clients, inquire as to whether they offer a flat fee or a simple hourly rate, and listen to their answers to your questions during a consultation. Your estate planning attorney should demonstrate their willingness to listen and customize an estate plan that meets your needs and fulfills your wishes, recommend that you update your estate plan regularly to keep pace with life’s inevitable changes, and treat you as a valued client for life.

PJI Law, PLC: Your Estate Administration Attorneys in Richmond Virginia

At PJI Law, PLC, each client receives our complete dedication, personal attention, and courteous, white-glove service. To provide the best experience possible, our skilled team responds quickly to each client and employs cutting-edge technology. 

Have you been typing “probate attorneys near me” into your search bar? If you’ve been named an executor of someone’s estate and are seeking the services of a knowledgeable and experienced estate administration lawyer in Richmond, Virginia, our team is here to guide you through the complexities of probate law and help you fulfill your responsibilities with peace of mind.

And if this blog has inspired you to establish an estate plan, our estate planning attorneys are ready to listen to your goals, consider your unique circumstances, and guide you through your estate planning with care and precision. 

Call PJI Law, PLC at (804) 653-3450 or complete our online form to schedule your consultation.

Copyright © 2024. PJI Law, PLC. All rights reserved.

The information in this blog post (“post”) is provided for general informational purposes only and may not reflect the current law in your jurisdiction. No information in this post should be construed as legal advice from the individual author or the law firm, nor is it intended to be a substitute for legal counsel on any subject matter. No reader of this post should act or refrain from acting based on any information included in or accessible through this post without seeking the appropriate legal or other professional advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a lawyer licensed in the recipient’s state, country, or other appropriate licensing jurisdiction.

4108 E Parham Rd, 
Richmond, VA 23228
(804) 653-3450

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