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Does a Spouse Automatically Inherit Everything in Virginia?

When a person passes away without a valid will in Virginia, their assets are distributed based on the state’s intestacy laws. These laws are essentially Virginia’s way of determining who gets what if you haven’t specified it in a will. Generally, your closest relatives will inherit your estate, but how it’s divided might surprise you.

What a Surviving Spouse Inherits in Virginia

Virginia’s inheritance laws might seem straightforward at first glance. If you pass away without a will and are survived by your spouse but no descendants, your spouse inherits all. In fact, even if you do create a will in which you leave all your property to others, your spouse may still be able to claim an elective share of your estate. So spouses definitely have defined inheritance rights. But those rights are not as absolute as many people believe. 

When descendants come into the picture, the scenario becomes more intricate. For those who have children or grandchildren only from their current marriage, their spouse remains the sole heir. Yet, in situations where one or more children or grandchildren are not descended from the current spouse, the spouse may only receive ⅓ of the estate with the rest divided among the children and grandchildren. Such distributions can lead to unexpected financial challenges for families.

Property Considerations and Shared Ownership

When we talk about shared property ownership in Virginia, we refer to properties owned as “tenants by the entirety” or “joint tenants with the right of survivorship.” If you co-own real estate or other property in this way, your interest in the property automatically transitions to the surviving co-owner when you pass away. 

Most commonly, this rule applies to family homes jointly owned by spouses. But for properties that don’t fit this mold, properties you own on your own without any joint tenure, Virginia’s intestacy laws come into play, guiding how they’re shared out.

Why Leaving It Up to the State Isn’t Ideal

Allowing Virginia’s intestacy laws to decide how your assets are distributed may not be the wisest choice. Why? There’s a fair chance the results might not align with your intentions or wishes. Consider this: your spouse might not receive the entirety of your assets. Instead of the comfort and security you envisioned for them, they might find themselves grappling with financial constraints and forced to divide up property. 

Additionally, if you’ve harbored particular desires for your estate, like bestowing a cherished item to a dear friend or making a significant donation to a cause close to your heart, the state’s laws won’t factor in such individual preferences. The absence of a personal touch in the distribution can lead to unintended consequences and missed opportunities for meaningful gestures.

The Value of a Will or Trust

At the heart of estate planning lies the fundamental desire to leave a legacy and ensure that our loved ones are provided for in our absence. By crafting a comprehensive estate plan, you gain the valuable ability to control and decide the fate of your assets. No longer are you at the mercy of state laws or potential familial disputes. Instead, you have a roadmap that outlines exactly how you want your estate to be divided. This can be particularly essential when ensuring that your spouse, perhaps the closest person to you, is cared for in a way that aligns with your shared dreams and aspirations.

While both wills and trusts aim to provide clarity and direction for asset distribution, they function differently. A will declares the beneficiaries for your assets and assigns an executor to manage the estate’s distribution process. It’s an invaluable tool for many, but it requires probate—a legal process validating the will and overseeing its implementation. 

On the other hand, a trust provides an alternate avenue. By establishing a trust, you’re essentially creating a legal entity that owns your assets. With a trust, assets can often bypass the probate process, ensuring a quicker and more private transition. Trusts can also offer flexibility in terms of distributing assets over time or under specific conditions, making them a fitting choice for those with complex family structures or unique wishes.

Seeking Guidance from Commonwealth Life & Legacy Counsel

Virginia’s estate laws can be confusing, and you want to ensure your loved ones are protected. That’s where we come in. At Commonwealth Life & Legacy Counsel, we aim to make estate planning understandable and straightforward for Central Virginia residents.

Are you ready to ensure your spouse and family are taken care of? 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.