Once an individual passes, the anticipation of distribution of assets can cause issues amongst loved ones. On occasion, one may consider even destroying or concealing the will in an effort to avoid their true intent or to keep from dividing assets in a certain way; especially if they were not pleased with the outcome.
Virginia Code Now Details Steep Punishments For Destroying or Concealing Wills in Virginia
So, what penalties do individuals face? Code of Virginia 18.2-504 provides for consequences against fraudulently destroying or concealing any will or codicil, with the intent to prevent the probate thereof. Any person that is found guilty will be convicted of a Class 6 felony. This could entail 1-5 years in prison, up to 12 months in jail, and a fine of up to $2,500. If you or your loved ones suspect foul play, please call our firm so we can properly prepare before contacting the county probate registrar and, in some cases, the originating attorney.
Beneficiaries Can Prevent Such An Issue By Safeguarding Their Will.
There are steps that the executor and beneficiaries can take prior to the testator's passing to ensure that their wishes are met. A fully executed will should have multiple copies that are kept in a safe place, along with being distributed to loved ones. Having kept your will in places where trusted friends and family members can always have access to it will help ease post-death proceedings. We maintain digital records for our estate planning clients, for instance.
For help preparing your will or codicil, or in challenging an heir or family member who tampered or destroyed an estate planning document, please consult with one of our Virginia attorneys at Smith Strong, PLC by calling 804.325.1245 or messaging us on this site.
Special thanks to Dayani R. Robinson for editorial assistance in drafting this article. Dayani is a student at the University of Virginia, majoring in Political Science; and worked at Smith Strong, PLC from 2023 - 2024.