A last will and testament is an important component in planning the distribution of your estate (real and personal property and cash assets) upon your death. Iowa wills give the person writing the will, called the testator, the opportunity to provide for a spouse, children, relatives, friends, and other loved ones after his death. Pet care may also be included in a last will and testament.
Not to be confused with a will, a living will provides instructions should you become incapacitated and incapable of making decisions regarding your health and medical care; accordingly an Iowa living will, if necessary, takes effect during one’s lifetime while a last will takes effect only after one’s death.
Do You Need a Last Will and Testament?
Although a last will and testament is not legally required, without a will, state laws (called laws of intestacy) will determine the distribution of the deceased’s assets. The outcome may not coincide with the decedent's (the person who passed away) wishes, however, which means it is generally advisable to create a last will and testament.
There are many benefits to having an Iowa last will and testament, but one of the most important is that it allows the testator to choose the executor of the estate, that is, the person who will be responsible for carrying out the wishes contained in the will.
A will can offer a testator great peace of mind in knowing that his desires as to how assets should be divided between loved ones upon his death will be followed. An Iowa last will and testament also offers the opportunity to make a charitable gift and create a trust for a spouse and children.
Another benefit of an Iowa will is that it can allow you to nominate the person to act as legal guardian of your children and also to outline the guardian's duties.
In addition to testamentary trusts (i.e., trusts created through a last will and testament) that provide a benefit for people, Iowa law allows the creation of a “pet trust” under the provisions for lawful non-charitable trusts in order to provide for the care of an animal after its owner’s death. Iowa wills give you the opportunity to ensure the well-being of your pets after your death in this manner.
Before the terms of an Iowa will can be effectuated, the will must be proven in probate court. Probate is the court-supervised process of distributing the estate of a deceased person. In Iowa, small estates (those valued at under $25,000 and with no solely owned real property) may pass directly to beneficiaries without probate by filing a special affidavit.
Otherwise, the executor of an Iowa will must petition the probate court to request letters testamentary, and from there, the personal representative can proceed with the administration of the estate.
Intestacy: Dying Without a Will
Someone who dies without a will is called “intestate,” which invokes the strict laws of intestacy. Generally speaking, in Iowa in the absence of a will, a surviving spouse receives the entire estate of a decedent even if there are children shared by the decedent and spouse. If the decedent has descendants who are not shared with the spouse, the spouse inherits half of the intestate real estate and at least half of the intestate personal property so long as that share is worth at least $50,000.
If you have neither a surviving spouse nor a descendant, other relatives, including parents, siblings, and grandparents, will inherit depending on the closeness of the relation.
As you can see, if you would like to have control over the distribution of your assets, it is vital that you have a will.
Exceptions to Ability to Distribute Property
Not all property you own can be distributed according to a will. For example, any property owned as a joint tenant with right of survivorship cannot be devised by will in Iowa. Beneficiaries of life insurance policies may also not be changed by a will.
Another important exception involves the spouse’s award. In Iowa, the surviving spouse is allowed one-third of the probate property of the decedent.
Form a Last Will in Iowa
The basic requirements for an Iowa last will and testament include the following:
- Age: The testator must be at least 18 years old or married.
- Capacity: The testator must be of sound mind.
- Signature: The will must be signed by the testator or by someone else in the testator’s name in the testator’s presence, by the testator’s direction.
- Witnesses: An Iowa will must be signed by two individuals after they witness the testator signing the will.
- Writing: An Iowa will must be in writing.
- Beneficiaries: A testator can leave property to any beneficiary provided he or she is not a witness to the will.
Changing an Iowa Last Will and Testament
An Iowa last will and testament may be changed at any time by another will or by codicil, which must follow the same execution procedures required of wills.
Revoking an Iowa Last Will and Testament
The revocation of an Iowa will or any part thereof can be accomplished through the execution of a subsequent will or “by being canceled or destroyed by the act or direction of the testator, with the intention of revoking it.”
Note that in Iowa, if the testator gets divorced after executing his will, the following applies:
All provisions in the will in favor of the testator's spouse or of a relative of the testator's spouse, including but not limited to dispositions, appointments of property, and nominations to serve in any fiduciary or representative capacity, are revoked by the divorce or dissolution of marriage, unless the will provides otherwise.
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