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Virginia Survivorship Laws

The rights and rules of survivorship are factors many people fail to take into account when they are considering a will or making other plans for the future of their assets. It is important to understand how survivorship rights can affect your property. 

Whether your estate plans center around a will or trust–or even if you have made no plans–the Virginia survivorship rules can have a tremendous impact on the transfer of your assets. So let’s shed some light on these laws and explain why they’re important to consider when assessing your planning needs.

Virginia’s Basic Survivorship Rule and Its Implications

Survivorship rules are part of the laws governing how assets are passed on after an individual’s death. When you share ownership of property with someone else and that joint ownership includes a right of survivorship, then when either owner passes away, their share of the property passes directly to the surviving co-owner. The property does not become part of the estate and does not go through probate. 

If, on the other hand, you co-own property with someone and there is no right of survivorship, then when either owner dies, their share becomes part of their estate or trust property and passes to beneficiaries or heirs. Therefore, it is vitally important to understand whether a particular co-ownership arrangement contains a right of survivorship. 

Sometimes it is obvious when a right of survivorship exists and other times it is not. A court may need to consider evidence about what the parties intended at the time they established a joint bank account, for instance, or when they established a business together. 

Survivorship in Real Estate

Real estate, often a cornerstone of a family legacy, poses its own set of considerations when it comes to survivorship in Central Virginia. Traditionally, there were two ways real estate could be owned jointly: joint tenancy and tenancy in common.

Traditional joint tenancy included a right of survivorship. If you and another individual, perhaps a spouse, owned a property as joint tenants, the right of survivorship would kick in upon the death of one owner. The property’s share would be seamlessly transferred to the surviving owner, ensuring continuity. Joint tenancy is especially prevalent among married couples. 

Tenancy in common is just the opposite–it traditionally does not include a right of survivorship. In this setup, each owner holds a defined, separate share of the property. So, if one of the co-owners were to pass away, the property’s share would not default to the surviving owner. Instead, the deceased person’s share would pass to that person’s beneficiaries or heirs. 

Virginia statutory law eliminated the presumption that joint tenancy includes a right of survivorship, so now it is important to look at the language in a deed or other document to determine whether a right of survivorship exists. In some cases, it may be possible to present evidence to show that parties intended to establish a right of survivorship even if the specific term is not used. 

Ensuring Your Assets Are Distributed As Intended

Without proactive estate planning, your assets will be distributed based on Virginia’s survivorship and intestacy laws, which might not reflect your intentions. How can you ensure your wishes will be respected? Here are some actionable steps:

  1. Establish documentation: Drafting a legally binding will or trust is a crucial step to control how your property will be managed and distributed after your passing.
  2. Consider ownership implications: Make sure you understand the survivorship rights attached to any property you own jointly with another person. If those rights are not what you intend, work with an attorney to create documents to change those rights. 
  3. Stay Updated: Life is fluid. Relationships evolve, and financial landscapes shift. Hence, it’s crucial to periodically review and, if necessary, update beneficiaries for assets, including insurance policies or retirement accounts.

Navigating the intricacies of property laws can be daunting, but with awareness and planning, you can ensure your assets find their rightful place in the future.

Why Partnering with Commonwealth Life & Legacy Counsel Matters

Planning around Virginia’s survivorship laws requires a comprehensive approach. You need to understand how components of the law work with the current ownership structure of your property and other components of your plans. At Commonwealth Life & Legacy Counsel, we guide you through these complexities, ensuring that your assets and legacy are safeguarded the way you intend.

If you have concerns or questions about how Virginia’s survivorship laws might impact your estate planning, we’re here to help. With our tailored, friendly, and approachable guidance, you can navigate the complexities with ease. Call Commonwealth Life & Legacy Counsel in Central Virginia at (434) 589-2958 or in Powhatan at (804) 598-1348 or reach out online to set up a free consultation to discuss your estate planning needs.