What Happens If You Die Without a Will in Iowa?


Estate planning gives Iowans a wide choice of options to divide their property and money after their day.In Iowa, there are many people you can choose to give your assets to after your death.

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But the opportunity to choose doesn't mean your choices will automatically occur. You need to have a valid willWhat happens, though, if you die without a will?      

Iowa's Intestacy Laws Explained    

Intestacy laws are default rules that come into play if you die without a will.

The intestacy laws are state laws, and every state has its own.

If you die without a will in Iowa, the laws will give your stuff away to the following people:

  • If you die and leave behind a husband or wife but no children or grandchildren, your spouse will get everything.
  • If you leave behind a spouse and children you had with that spouse, everything will go to your spouse.
  • If you have a spouse and children who survive you, but some of those children are from a different marriage or partner, your surviving spouse will get either $50,000 or 50% of your assets, whichever is more, and your descendants will split the remaining 50%.
  • If you have children or grandchildren and no surviving spouse, everything will go to them.
  • If your spouse or descendants are already dead, but your parents survive you, everything will go to your parents.
  • If you have none of the above (no spouse, children, grandchildren, or parents), 50% of your stuff will go to any children your mother has and 50% to your father's children. So, usually your brothers and sisters.

The way Iowa determines while of your children (or grandchildren) get how much of a percentage of your stuff is through something called "per stirpes ." For example:

Jerry dies. He is survived by three out of his four sons, named Derek, Justin, and Michael, and two grandchildren, Christine and Wendy. Christine and Wendy are the children of Jerry's deceased son, Rory. Iowa's intestacy laws say that, per stirpes, 25% of Jerry's assets will go to each of his children, Derek, Justin, and Michael (all equal beneficiaries), and Christine and Wendy will split the remaining 25%.

There are also laws for people who die with no close living relatives.         

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How Does Probate Work in Iowa If There Is No Will?

Probate is a legal process conducted in court and supervised by a judge, by which the assets transfer to whoever has inherited them.

In Iowa, district courts handle probate. 

Probate happens when the court appoints a person to manage the deceased person's estate (i.e., all of their money, property, and stuff). If the person dies without a will, this court-appointed person is called an administrator.

Under Iowa law, the administrator generally is either:

  • The surviving spouse files a petition to be the administrator within 20 days after death.
  • Other potential inheritors, if they file a petition to be the administrator within ten days after that initial 20-day period has passed.

If the court appoints you administrator, you have to publish notice of your appointment for two consecutive weeks in a daily or weekly newspaper in the county where the probate case is filed.

As the administrator, you have a few responsibilities:

  • Taking inventory of all the assets.
  • Collecting all the assets and opening a bank account for the estate.
  • Paying any necessary expenses.
  • Notifying any creditors.
  • Paying the creditors.
  • Filing any necessary tax returns.
  • Distributing any remaining assets to the necessary people.

After this is complete, you will appear in court to have the judge close the probate. 

Who Typically Inherits Assets in Iowa If There Isn't a Will?

The laws generally select close family members who most people would have already had as their chosen beneficiaries if they had had a valid will: your surviving spouse, children, grandchildren, parents, or siblings.

Of course, not everyone wants their close family members to inherit their stuff, but if you don't write a will, the law will automatically reassign all your property to your family. For example:

  • Example 1: Jake dies, survived by his girlfriend, Molly, and his father, Ralph. Jake wants to give everything to Molly but does not execute a will. Under Iowa's intestacy laws, Ralph will inherit everything.
  • Example 2: Carol dies, survived by her spouse, Dan, and her daughter, Denise (also Dan's child). Carol wants Dan and Denise to inherit 50% each but does not execute a will. Under Iowa's intestacy laws, Dan will inherit everything.
  • Example 3: George dies, survived by his second spouse, Megan, and his son, Alan, from George's prior marriage. George wants Alan to inherit 70% of his assets and give the remaining 30% to Megan, but he does not execute a will. Under Iowa's intestacy laws, Megan stands to inherit at least $50,000 and 50% of everything that was George's, and the rest will go to Alan.
  • Example 4: Wanda dies, survived by her only daughter Gina and her grandson Mason. Wanda wants Mason to get everything but does not execute a will. This means Gina will inherit everything.
  • Example 5: Larry dies, survived by his adult children, Ryan, Elon, and Barbie. Larry wants to split everything among his three children, but he wants to put the money into trusts and name his brother Sam as the trustee. Larry intends to spell out specific terms and conditions for how Sam should manage these three trusts, but Larry does not execute a will, so all of his assets will transfer outright (not via a trust) to his children.

The good news is putting together a valid will in Iowa is not hard. You need a written document that you sign and that two independent people witness.

Without a will in Iowa, the state's default intestacy laws take over. As shown in the above examples, there are many cases when Iowa's intestacy laws do not give you the result you want.               

Frequently Asked Questions: Dying Without a Will in Iowa

If you die without a will in Iowa, many questions can arise. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions concerning dying without a will in Iowa. 

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What happens when your parent dies without a Will?

When your parent dies without a Will in Iowa, your rights depend on your family situation.

If your parent does not have a surviving spouse, you and any siblings or grandchildren will inherit everything.

If your parent does have a surviving spouse, but this person is not your parent, at least $50,000 and/or half of your parent's assets will go to that surviving spouse, and you and the other descendants will split everything else.

If your parent does a surviving spouse who is also your parent, they get everything.

The amount you inherit can also depend on how many children your parents had. If you have three siblings and your last parent just passed, you and your siblings will each get 25% of everything.   

What are a surviving spouse's rights if there's no will?

Iowa's laws stipulate that a person usually has a lot of rights when their spouse dies.

If the deceased person has no children or grandchildren, the spouse will get everything.

If there are surviving children and at least some of those are children that the spouse and the deceased person had together, the spouse gets at least $50,000 or 50% of the assets, whichever is greater. Everything else goes to the children or grandchildren.

How do you become an executor of an estate without a will in Iowa?

If there is no will, generally, a surviving spouse is the first choice to become administrator of an estate. However, they have to file a petition with the probate court within 20 days of the death to be appointed. If they don't, other family members can file a petition ten days after those 20 days has passed.

If there is a will, the will should name an executor to manage the estate, so there should be no need to file any petitions to become an administrator.

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Who is considered next of kin in Iowa?

There is no formal definition of "next of kin" under the Iowa probate code.

Informally, the people who we generally consider our close family members - a spouse, children, parents, sisters, and brothers - would be "next of kin."

Estate Planning and the Iowa Caucuses

Estate planning is kind of like voting. It does require some effort, but it enables you to exercise your right to choose how you will be represented (even after you die). 

One valid will can determine what happens to your assets after your death.

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