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The decedent is the deceased, i.e. the person who left the estate. A decedent has died testate if he or she has left a valid will. If a person dies intestate (without leaving a valid will), the laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia, in effect at the time of death, determine who the heirs are and who will therefore receive the decedent's property. The person who the court appoints to administer the estate for the decedent is called an executor if specified in the will or a personal representative if no executor was specified. Executors and personal representatives are also referred to generically as administrators or fiduciaries. Other people involved in the administration of estates include the Commissioner of Accounts (a local person appointed by the circuit court to oversee the administration of estates), the circuit court clerk and his or her deputies, and the circuit court judges.
The will (last will and testament) is a legal document drawn up by a person and/or his or her attorney to specify how a person's property should be distributed and who should administer the affairs of the estate. A copy of a document is certified by a circuit court deputy clerk to indicate that it is a true and complete copy of the original. An exemplified copy also contains the official seals of the judges and clerk of the circuit court.
To probate a will is to officially prove it as the authentic and valid last will and testament of the deceased and admit it to record. Qualification and appointment of a personal representative may or may not accompany probate. If a decedent owns real estate in multiple jurisdictions in Virginia, the will should be probated in the jurisdiction where he or she resided and then a certified copy recorded in the other jurisdictions. If real estate is owned in another state, an exemplified copy of the will must be probated in that state.
If there is a will, and an executor or executors is named in the will, the person or persons specified will qualify. If there is a will, but no executor is named or the specified executor refuses or ceases to serve, the circuit court may grant administration to an alternate executor or a beneficiary of the will.
If there is no will, the surviving spouse is given preference in the appointment of a personal representative, followed by the other natural distributees (children, parents, etc.). Anyone having an interest in the estate may qualify after 60 days have elapsed since written notice has been given to the other heirs. Whoever is appointed as an executor must take an oath to faithfully perform the duties required and must give bond in an amount at least equal to the value of the estate. If the will does not waive surety, surety must be given on the bond.
No. There are over 200 sections in the Code of Virginia that deal solely with the administration of estates. You should contact the Clerk of Circuit Court's Office if you have any questions regarding probate procedure. You should contact an attorney if you have any questions regarding the legal interpretation of Virginia's estate laws.