Estate planning after relocation. Is an out of state will valid in Virginia?

Life is full of so many unexpected and exciting events-marriage, birth of a child, career changes and often relocation. With a big move from one state to another, many tend to take necessary steps after they have moved. This could include changing their address, obtaining a new driver’s license and updating important contact information. But what about updating estate plans after moving? It’s important to know that not all states will apply the same rules to executed estate documents as each state has varying laws when it comes to distribution of property, definition of marriage, taxes and even health care directives, etc. Without knowledge of these changes, one may not know if their estate plans will be effective and applicable. To help you decide if you need to have your estate plan reviewed, here is a selection of few of the most common questions we are asked.

Will my estate plans translate from one state to another?

While it is not uncommon to review or rewrite estate documents periodically, most people don’t consider reevaluating their wills, trusts or advanced medical directives after they have relocated to another state. While most plans can remain valid from state to state, it’s important to keep in mind that each state has varying and ever-changing laws when it comes to the implementation of these significant documents. In some cases yes, certain aspects of estate documents will translate, however, it’s best to review existing estate documents in the state you currently reside in order to make sure that the language and laws match up accordingly with your wishes.

A practical issue our clients have run into is where they have listed their prior out of state counsel as their executor (or personal representative). Finding local counsel that can serve this role can alleviate a number of issues later.

Do Virginia’s laws differ from other states?

Yes. There are a number of differences, including who will inherit your assets under a generally drafted will. A perfect example is Virginia Code § 64.2-200: Course of descents generally. It states that a decedent’s assets will pass to:

“1. To the surviving spouse of the decedent, unless the decedent is survived by children or their descendants, one or more of whom are not children or their descendants of the surviving spouse, in which case, two-thirds of the estate descends and passes to the decedent’s children and their descendants, and one-third of the estate descends and passes to the surviving spouse.”

Some other states leave the line of inheritance generally “to my heirs”. If Virginia law was to be applied, then, with a will with general provisions – under this statute, assets could potentially go one-third to your spouse and two-thirds to your children, if they were not also the children of your spouse. (This code section also applies when individuals do not have a will in place). This may be what you want to occur, but it could not, and could mean that our recommendation would be to revise your documents. This is merely one example.

How would a Virginia will make wrapping up my estate easier?

We have touched on this before, but while Virginia’s probate process is generally quiet straight forward – having a will can ease the process of probate through its inclusion of certain procedural provisions. As such, a review of out of state estate plans will also look at the practical considerations of carrying out your wishes. These include but not limited to reviewing language in the will regarding estate taxes, whether or not a surety will need to be posted and how to effectuate the transfer of real property.

Why should I consult a local attorney once I have moved?

What better way to get some clarity and definition regarding the laws of each state than consulting with a knowledgeable attorney that specializes in estate planning? Consulting with an attorney regarding your already existing will, trust, advanced medical directive or power of attorney is a great first step when determining whether or not divergent state laws can affect how your estate plans are carried out. By seeking legal guidance, it will become clear whether or not the language of your estate documents should be modified to ensure it speaks to your unique needs.

Estate planning is an invaluable process that should be given a great deal of thought and attention to detail. After all, it is the best way to ensure your loved ones are taken care of after you’re gone. It is well worth it to give those estate documents a second look after the big move. With the difference in varying laws between states, consulting with a local attorney that heedfully monitors legislative changes should be as crucial task at the top of your to-do list. Should you wish us to review your estate plan please feel free to reach out to us at or call us at (804) 423.1382. We would like to help.