Virginia Probate: Intestate v. Testate

If a family member of yours has recently passed away or if you are planning for your future, there are a lot of different options available for passing property on to heirs. At a bare minimum, you need to be aware of the types of planning options that are available to you. The first distinction you need to be familiar with is what an estate is, and what the different types of estates are.

Many jurisdictions, including Virginia, distinguish between several different types of estates. For the purposes of this article, we will be looking at the distinction between “testate”’ and “intestate.”

What does "intestate" mean?

An estate is considered to be intestate when you have failed to create some kind of document which tells your state how you wish for your assets to be distributed. Common examples include wills and trusts. If you do not have a will or a trust, the law of the state where you last resided generally takes control.

In Virginia, these “intestacy rules” determine which of your heirs get which property. Virginia law states that, if you do not have a will and you do not have children from a different marriage, your spouse will take all of the property. However, if you have children from another marriage, those children are entitled to two-thirds (⅔) of your property, and your spouse is entitled to one-third (⅓) of your property.

In the event that your spouse has predeceased you, and all of your children are from that marriage, then your property will be split up into as many equal shares as there are children. For example, if you have three children, each child will get one-third (⅓) of your property. If one of your children predeceases you, that child’s share will then be split up into equal shares based upon the number of children that child had.

There are more rules than this, and this is just a simple example of how Virginia treats property if you do not have a will. If there is specific property that you wish to give to specific people, you must have a will or some other estate planning document.

What does "testate" mean?

Testate means you have at least some form of estate planning document, primarily a will. The purpose of the will is to direct your state on how you wish your property to be treated. There are many different types of wills. I will discussed the various types of wills in a later post.

Why you need a lawyer.

A lawyer is important for several reasons if you have a loved one who is recently deceased or if you are planning for your own future. A lawyer can help you navigate the complex probate process and determine what steps are best taken in order to distribute the property and minimize tax liability. Furthermore, a lawyer can help you prepare for the future and determine which type of estate planning document is best for you.