Death, Wills and Iowa Law

Probate attorney Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Death — like taxes — is inevitable: It comes to all of us at some point and, like good boy scouts, we should be prepared. The most important form of preparation is to make sure that we have wills detailing how our assets are to be distributed and or managed.

When residents in the state of Iowa die, the fate of their personal properties and even the guardianship of their underage children will depend on whether or not they left valid wills. A will may be self-crafted or it may be drafted with the assistance of an Iowa attorney.

What is a Will and how do People Make Wills?

A will is a legally-binding and written document that lays out in detail how a person’s possessions and assets should be distributed or managed after his or her death. The advantages of making a will and keeping it up-to-date are many: It gives you total control after death. You dictate how your assets are to be divided, making clear who exactly will receive money, jewelry, clothing, vehicles or real estate. A will remains valid until it is either amended or revoked, and it may be changed as often as required.

Iowa laws can give the state all of your assets if you die without a will and leave no blood relatives, even if you have close friends or a companion to whom you would have liked to bequeath some or all of your assets. This is one particular case in which it is vitally important to draw up a will, and to do so with the assistance of an Iowa attorney.

You can also use your will to bequeath funds to charitable organizations or to scholastic foundations. A will also allows parents of minors to nominate guardians for their children, and to appoint trustees.

The state of Iowa has strict requirements that must be followed when making a will. Failure to adhere to the requirements could make the will invalid in court. To ensure that a will is legal and binding in Iowa, anyone drafting a will must take the following steps:

• Put everything in writing within one document.
• Declare ownership of the will within the document.
• Sign the will.
• Have the will witnessed by two legally-competent individuals. The witnesses are also required to sign their names to the document in the presence of the will-writer.

Anyone who is unsure about writing his or her own will — or feels that the size and/or complexity of his or her assets are not easily contained in a self-written will — would be best served by retaining an Iowa attorney to undertake the task of drawing-up the will. Additionally, any Iowa attorney can provide guidance and advice on a host of will-related issues such as executors, minimizing the tax burden, fees, estate planning, trust funds and probate that are specific to the state of Iowa. Typically, probate occurs in cases where valid wills exist and also in cases where no wills were made. A Cedar Rapids wills and probate lawyer is certain to have the relevant knowledge and experience to advise clients on matters pertaining to probate, but the following information will lay the groundwork in the first instance:

What is Probate?

Probate is the means by which the court uses its power to oversee and monitor the transfer of ownership of a dead person’s assets/properties to the beneficiaries stipulated in a will, or to the beneficiaries recognized by Iowa laws in cases where no wills exist.

Probate laws are protective by their very nature: The laws ensure that heirs receive their inheritance, and they also make sure that creditors receive payments in a timely fashion.

Probate can be avoided in certain circumstances. However, in cases where deceased persons have ownership of properties, their estates are typically probated — whether wills exist or not. Some people try to take steps to avoid probate, but this usually results in a costlier probate. A Cedar Rapids wills and probate lawyer is the best person to provide clarification and guidance on this matter.

How Does Probate Work in Iowa?

In Iowa, probate laws protect the rights of spouses and children. A spouse cannot be excluded without his or her permission. Children may be intentionally disinherited, but not accidentally.

If you die without having made a will, your assets might not be distributed as you would have intended — and probate will be undertaken according to the following standard procedures:

– The court appoints an administrator to manage the estate. The administrator will also apportion your possessions in accordance with the laws of Iowa.

– The court-appointed administrator will first make sure that all outstanding legal and administrative fees, burial and medical expenses and all other payments and debts are paid in full. Once all debts and claims are settled, the remainder of your estate will then be divided and allotted to your spouse, children and other heirs according to certain criteria:

a) All of your estate will go to your surviving spouse on the condition that you and your spouse either have no children, or the children were born to the both of you.

b) If you have children who were not born to your living spouse, then your spouse will be awarded the first $50,000 of your estate. In addition, half of the property that remains will go to your spouse, and your surviving children will be given equal share of the other half.

c) If you do not leave a surviving spouse, then your children will be awarded the whole of your estate. The heirs of any child or children that may have preceded you in death will also receive a share of your estate.

d) If you are not survived by a spouse or any children or grandchildren, then your estate will go to your living parents.

e) If you have no living parents, your siblings and nephews and nieces will inherit your estate. Where none of these relatives exist, your grandparents or their descendants will inherit your estate.

f) In cases where no blood relatives exist, Iowa law will determine who inherits your estate. It could very well be the state of Iowa itself.

If some of the above scenarios run counter to what you would like to happen to your estate in the event of your death, it is imperative that you seek the advice of a qualified Cedar Rapids wills and probate lawyer.

How Does the Probate Process Work?

Probate is a fee-based process, and the fees that accompany court filings are driven by the value of the decedents’ assets. Attorney fees will be incurred, and court-appointed administrators will likely seek fees and expenses for duties discharged. Iowa laws do set a maximum fee amount that can be charged by personal or legal representatives, but people can set out permissible amounts in their wills. Another reason for creating a will!

The probate process is inherently lengthy, and can extend beyond two years. Many factors can determine the length of probate — or indeed extend the process. It is imperative that you speak with a qualified attorney to learn more about the factors that affect the probate process. It is not difficult to find a Cedar Rapids wills and probate lawyer who is experienced in these matters.

The law in Iowa does require estates to be closed within three years of the time that the second notification is published. A court can grant an extension of the process, however.

All things considered, a will is an important document that everyone should consider drawing-up. Anyone who has concerns about the imposition of taxes on his or her estate after death should definitely consult with an Iowa attorney to learn about the legal means of reducing the amount of taxes due after death. A will is crucial for ensuring that the correct beneficiaries inherit an estate. It is also a must-have document in families that have children who are minors because wills spell out who exactly will become guardians of the children following the death of one of both parents. Finally, the existence of a will can prevent a great deal of legal and familial wrangling.

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