What is Probate?

Probate is the official proving of a will as the authentic and valid last will and testament of a deceased person by admitting the document to record in the appropriate Clerk's Office. It becomes necessary to probate an estate when the decedent owns assets (personal or real estate) solely in his name, i.e., assets that do not have a joint or co-owner with rights of survivorship.

To probate an estate, you must go to the Circuit Court of the city in which the decedent lived at the time of death. Those who lived within the city limits of Portsmouth must go to the Portsmouth Circuit Court located at 1345 Court Street, Suite 101, Portsmouth, Virginia 23704. If the decedent died in a nursing home or similar institution, then that person’s residence is presumed to be where he or she resided prior to becoming a patient at such facility.

When should I Probate the will or seek to be appointed Administrator?

There is no set time frame in which a will must be probated, or estate administration must be started. The death of a loved one is a particularly emotional, stressful, and busy time.

The probate of the will can usually wait until a week or so after the funeral. It is recommended that the initial steps in the estate process start within 30 days after death.

If any questions exist, call the Portsmouth Circuit Court Clerk’s Office at 757-393-8671 ext. 5127.

What items do I need for Probate? 

  • Original Will & Codicils, if applicable. These will be retained by the Clerk.  We cannot accept copies of wills.
  • Certified Death Certificate (This will be returned to you) or a copy of the funeral program, obituary from the newspaper, or statement from funeral home on their letterhead.
  • Approximate value of any solely held asset(s). Assets may include but are not limited to bank or investment accounts, stocks, bonds, real estate, automobiles, etc.
  • Names & addresses of the decedent’s heirs-at-law. Heirs-at-law are the decedent’s closest relatives, pursuant to § 64.2-200. They may be different than the Will’s beneficiaries.
  • Valid photo identification. Driver’s license, passport, military ID, or state issued picture ID of the individual qualifying on the estate.
  • Fiduciary and Recording Fees are required. The fee is $1.33 per $1,000.00 value of the decedent’s estate and the actual fee due will be determined at the time you are appointed. We accept cash, check, debit or credit cards for payment. There is a flat $2.00 fee for credit or debit card transactions $50.00 or less and a 4% service fee for credit or debit card transactions over $50.00.  We only accept Visa and Mastercard.
  • A Surety Bond may be required.  Click here to view of list of Surety Companies for Estate Bonds approved for Portsmouth Circuit Court.

Do I need an appointment?

Yes, appointments are required to meet with a Probate Clerk.  NO walk-ins. 

You must complete an Application for Probate Appointment and submit it along with the required documentation. Click Application for Probate Appointment to access the application or call 757-393-8671 ext. 5127 to make an appointment.

The Probate Division makes every effort to take appointments on time. Please allow an extra 10 minutes to park and get through security. If you arrive early, it is possible that you may be seen early. If you are more than 15 minutes late, we will make every effort to accommodate you; however, we reserve the right to reschedule your appointment.


Where can one go for more information or answers to specific questions:

  • Talk to the Clerk of the Circuit Court or the probate clerk. They will give you specific instructions at the time of probate.
  • View Probate in Virginia Administration of Estates (PDF), a comprehensive guide to the administration of a decedent’s estate in Virginia, prepared and issued by the Virginia Court Clerks’ Association.