When you die, who will receive your home, your car, or your hard-earned money? If you have children, who will raise them and manage their assets? A will is a traditional estate planning tool that you can use to answer these questions.
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Do I Really Need a Will in Virginia?
No one is required to have a will, but a will can make life a lot easier for your loved ones after you are gone. If you want to choose who raises your children and receives your assets after you die, you should make a will.
You can use a trust or life insurance to provide for your loved ones, but they are not substitutes for a will. You cannot name a guardian with these documents, unlike a will. A will also gives you the ability to use a residuary clause. A residuary clause is a catch-all that ensures assets you forget to put in a will or trust pass to a specific person or entity.
If you do not have a will, Virginia’s intestate succession laws will determine who gets your assets. If you are married with no children, your spouse will receive everything. If you have children but no spouse, your children will receive everything. If you have a spouse and at least one child who is not your spouse’s child, one-third of your estate will pass to your spouse and two-thirds to your children.
If you are not married and have no descendants, the intestate succession laws have a list of relatives who can inherit from you. It starts with your parents and siblings and continues with increasingly distant relatives. If you do not have any living relatives, your assets will go to the Commonwealth of Virginia.
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How To Get a Will in Virginia
You can hire an attorney licensed in Virginia to make a will, or you can purchase a will form from a reputable source. If you use a form, follow these steps: See full process
List everything you own
List everything you own, such as:
- Real estate
- Life insurance policies
- Retirement accounts
Some of these items, such as real estate and life insurance, will not pass through your will. Figure out which items you will give through your will and which you will give through other means. Some methods to give assets to others include:
- A gift during your lifetime
- Placing the item in a trust
- Beneficiary designations in a life insurance policy or retirement account
- A payable on death bank account
In Virginia, you can distribute items through a list of the tangible personal property referenced in your will. You must sign the list and clearly designate who will receive specific items. You may create or update the list at any time. The items on the list should not be mentioned in the will and cannot be money or real estate.
Choose your beneficiaries
Think about important people in your life and how you would like to provide for them. The list of tangible personal property is a great way to give sentimental items to loved ones. You also can use your will to give assets to a charity or another entity. If you want to give something other than money to an organization, make sure they can accept the gift before putting it in your will.
You also can use your will to disinherit someone. However, you should speak with a Virginia estate planning attorney if you want to disinherit a spouse or child. With a couple of exceptions, you cannot completely disinherit a spouse, but an attorney can discuss other legal options with you.
Choose an executor
You should choose an executor who is trustworthy and responsible. An executor will manage your estate during probate and will have several duties. Being an executor can be time-consuming and stressful, but your executor can use estate funds to hire accountants, attorneys, and other professionals to help with probate. To avoid a court naming someone, you should name at least one successor executor in case your first choice dies before you or is unable or unwilling to serve.
Before you list someone as an executor, speak with them about your expectations and what their duties will be. Some of the executor’s many duties are:
- Identifying, locating, and inventorying your probate assets
- Notifying your spouse, heirs, and beneficiaries about the probate process
- Paying your estate’s debts
- Filing tax returns and paying taxes for your estate
- Distributing assets in accordance with your will
Choose guardians for your minor children
In a Virginia will, you can name a guardian of the person and a guardian of the estate for your child. The guardian of the person will be your child’s primary caregiver and will make decisions about your child’s education, health, and welfare. You should pick someone who wants to raise your child. Some questions to think about are:
- Do they have a good relationship with your child?
- Will your child have to move a long distance to live with them?
- Are they financially secure?
- Will they raise your child in accordance with your values?
The guardian of the estate will manage assets that your child receives through your will. They do not have to be the same person as the guardian of the person. The guardian of the estate should be trustworthy and responsible with money.
Sign your will
To have a valid will, you must sign it or direct another person in your presence to sign for you if you are unable to sign. Two adult witnesses must watch the signing, or you must acknowledge your will to them. Avoid using a beneficiary as a witness to prevent later allegations that the signing was improper.
When you die, your witnesses will need to provide testimony about the signing unless you make a self-proved will. A self-proved allows a court to accept your will without witness testimony. To create a self-proved will, you must include a self-proving affidavit signed by yourself and your witnesses. A notary public must notarize your signatures on the affidavit.
Store your will in a safe place
A copy of a will is generally not accepted as valid by the courts. Store your executed will in a safe place, and make sure your executor and trusted family members or friends know where to locate it. Common places to store a will are:
- A safe place in your home
- A law firm
- A safe deposit box at a bank
- The clerk of the circuit court where you live
If you ask a law firm to store your will, ask what will happen if the firm goes out of business. Be careful using a safe deposit box. You must ensure the bank will allow your executor or other people you select to access the safe deposit box after you die.
Review your will when your life changes
In the years after you create your will, you might have children or grandchildren, marry, divorce, lose a loved one, or experience changes in income. Any time you have a major life event, review your will to see if it needs changes. You also should review it every few years to ensure it provides for your loved ones and accomplishes your goals. A Virginia estate planning attorney can help you with the review and advise you about amending your will.
You May Want To Speak With a Lawyer if You:
- Have a past divorce, blended family, or other complex family situation
- Have a high-value estate
- Own a business
- Want to create a special needs trust
- Want legal review of your completed will
Ready to get started on your Virginia will? It’s free to start.Create My Will
Virginia Will FAQ/People Often Ask
You do not need a lawyer to make a will. In Virginia, you can make a will on your own. If you make a will without a lawyer, it is a good idea to purchase a will form from a reputable source.
FindLaw is not a law firm, and the forms are not a substitute for the advice or services of an attorney. Even though you are not required to use a lawyer, using an attorney is wise when you have children with multiple partners, significant assets, children with special needs, or real estate in multiple states. A Virginia estate planning attorney can also give you legal advice about other estate documents, like trusts and powers of attorney.
You likely will pay a few hundred dollars for a will if you hire an attorney. The cost of a will in Virginia depends on several factors, including the complexity of your assets, whether you are single or married, the going rate in your area, and the attorney’s experience level. Many attorneys will charge a fixed fee for a will, but others charge an hourly rate.
If you have a simple family situation and do not have questions about beneficiaries or your assets, a will form can be a lower-cost option. You can also ask an estate planning attorney to review your form before executing it to ensure you did not forget anything.
Virginia does not offer a sample will form in its statutes. You might find free forms online, but using a free form is risky because it might not comply with Virginia law. If you use a will form, it’s better to buy a form from a reputable source like the Virginia will form we offer.
In Virginia, you can change your will by creating an amendment called a codicil. You must use two witnesses to execute your codicil. Only use a codicil if you are making one or two small changes. If you have several changes or a major change, draft a new will.
You can revoke a will by destroying it with the intent to revoke it. However, it is better to revoke it in writing to avoid any disputes about your intent. A writing needs to be executed in the same manner as a will to be effective. The best way to revoke a will is to create a new will that expressly revokes all previous wills and codicils.
Virginia allows testators to create a holographic will, or a will wholly in the testator’s handwriting and signed by the testator. A holographic will does not need witnesses when it is signed.
Do not use a holographic will unless you are on your death bed and have no access to an attorney or a form will. Holographic wills can be difficult to probate because they are not easy to read as a typed will. To be probated, a holographic will needs two disinterested witnesses to verify the testator’s handwriting. In other words, no one who is a beneficiary or potential intestate heir can verify your handwriting.
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