Destruction of a will – a crime with a harsh punishment in the Commonwealth of Virginia

A last will and testament is a legal document that articulates a person’s wishes for after they have passed away. It’s an important document that maps out who will be named their executor, how one’s property is distributed and possible guardianship of their children. It gives the decedent the ability to have control over their assets, rather than rely on the default laws of the Commonwealth. There are so many benefits to preparing a will, reasons that will be beneficial to the ones you love after you have passed on – and because of its importance, it is a crime in Virginia to destroy a will.

Your will is an invaluable document, one that is personal, detailed and legally binding. As with most areas of ones life,  the requests of a will can cause disagreements within a family. Perhaps a family member or child is displeased with how you have chosen to execute your estate. On rare occasions, the intent to disrupt the distribution of assets can arise and one may even consider destroying any evidence of your after-life intentions.

So what happens if someone purposely destroys or conceals your will in an effort to mitigate your intentions? Under the  Code of Virginia section §18.2-504  if your will is destroyed with the intent to prevent probate, the individual doing so will be deemed guilty of a Class 6 felony. A Class 6 felony entails the possibility of one to five years in prison, confinement in jail for not more than 12 months and a fine of not more than $2,500.00.

If such an allegation is made, the attorney that prepared the will should be notified immediately as well as the county probate registrar.

If there are concerns about the overall estate plan, and making sure it is followed, steps that may preserve the will are suggested. To avoid such an issue, an executed will and any copies of the document should be kept in a safe place and distributed to trusted friends and/or family members. Keeping original copies where a spouse or family member has access to it is vital in the event of one’s death.

Should you wish to discuss the drafting of your estate plan, or have questions how to protect your assets and your will, please feel free to reach out to us at or call us at (804) 423.1382. We would like to help.