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How to Make a Will in Iowa FAQ

Making a last will and testament is an important step for any adult. This article answers the most common FAQs about Iowa wills so that you can confidently create your will.

Table of Contents

What If I Die Without a Will in Iowa?

When you have a will, you control how to distribute your assets, personal property, and real property among your loved ones and family members. But if you die without a will, called intestate, the state of Iowa determines what happens to your assets.

In intestacy, a surviving spouse or children inherit your estate. If not, the assets go to your next of kin, such as parents, grandparents, or siblings. But if no next of kin exists, the state gets everything.

And if you have minor children or pets, without a will, you have no say in who cares for them after your death. Because of this, you must take the time to express your wishes for your family and your estate.

What Does a Will Do?

A will is a legal document in which you make critical decisions for your property, family, and distribution of your estate. In your will, you can do the following:

  • Name a personal representative or executor who locates your assets and will, files your will with the probate court, and carries out your wishes throughout the probate process
  • Identify and give away specific items of personal property and real estate to people you choose
  • Name beneficiaries who receive the remainder of your estate
  • Make charitable bequests to charities of your choice
  • Name guardians for minor children to care for them if necessary
  • Name caregivers for pets and set aside money for their care

With a will, you streamline the probate process, saving your estate time and money in probate.

What Doesn’t a Will Do?

Many kinds of assets pass through a will and probate. However, some assets, called non-probate assets, are not transferred via a will. Instead, the terms of their own legal documents determine how they are transferred when you die. These include:

  • Funds in payable on death or transfer on death bank accounts
  • Life insurance payments (to beneficiaries other than to the estate itself)
  • Annuities and pensions
  • Retirement accounts, pensions, 401(k)s, IRAs, and Keoghs
  • Property owned as joint tenancy with right of survivorship
  • Property in living trusts and irrevocable trusts

Making sure you have named beneficiaries on all your non-probate accounts and assets keeps them out of probate court.

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Who Can Make a Will in Iowa?

Iowa probate law requires that the person making the will, called a testator, meets the following requirements to be eligible to create a will.

  • Age: The testator is age 18 years of age or older
  • Sound Mind: The testator is of sound mind. A person is of sound mind if they are legally competent.

Iowa residents with concerns about if they can make a will should consult a probate & estate planning attorney for legal advice and assistance.

Does Iowa Have a Statutory Will?

No. Iowa state law does not provide a required form you must use to make your will, sometimes called a statutory will. Instead, you can create your own customized will or hire an attorney. Many people using self-help legal solutions find it easy to make a will.

What Types of Wills Does Iowa Accept?

Customarily wills are typed or printed and are signed by the testator. It is important to be aware of other types of will as well and if they are recognized in Iowa. These include:

  • Handwritten Will: Also called a holographic will, this is a will written entirely in the testator’s handwriting and signed by them without witnesses. Holographic wills are not valid in Iowa. However, a testator may handwrite their will and sign it if there are two witnesses.
  • Oral Will: An oral will, spoken aloud, called a nuncupative will, is not valid in Iowa.
  • Electronic Will: An electronic will is a will that is signed, witnessed, or notarized by electronic means such as audio-visual technology. Electronic wills are not valid in Iowa.

Creating a standard written will and signing in front of witnesses is always best to avoid possible will challenges.

Can I Make My Own Will in Iowa?

Yes. You can create your own will in Iowa. You do not need an attorney. However, because a will is a complex legal document, it is best to use online services to draft a will conforming to state law.

How Do I Make My Will Valid in Iowa?

There are specific requirements under Iowa law that a testator must meet to make their will valid.

  • Signature: The testator must sign their will or direct someone else in their presence to sign it for them.
  • Witnesses: Two witnesses must see the testator sign the will or hear them acknowledge it as their will. The testator must ask the witnesses to sign the will in the presence of the testator and each other. Avoid using interested witnesses when possible. An interested witness is a witness that receives a bequest in the will. If you use an interested witness, your will is not invalid. However, an interested witness can only receive a bequest up to the amount they would have received if the testator died intestate unless there are two other disinterested witnesses.
  • Notary: A testator does not need a notary to attest to their signature on the will. However, if they want to use a self-proving affidavit, they do need a notary public.
  • Self-Proving Affidavit: Iowa code includes wording for a self-proving affidavit. This affidavit is a sworn statement signed by the testator and witnesses before a notary. When submitted to the probate court, it takes the place of witness testimony about the will’s execution.

Can I Disinherit My Spouse in Iowa?

If you attempt to disinherit your spouse, they have the right to an elective share. An elective share is part of a decedent’s estate that a spouse may claim if left out of the will. In Iowa, an elective share is one-third of the estate.

Can I Disinherit My Children in Iowa?

There is no law against disinheriting your child in Iowa. However, if a child is born or adopted after you execute your will and they are left out, that child may have a right to what they would receive if the testator died intestate.

What Estate Planning Documents Should I Have in Iowa?

In addition to your last will and testimony, there are other important estate planning documents you should have in Iowa, which include:

  • Power of Attorney. This is a document designating a person you trust as your agent to make financial decisions on your behalf if you are not able to do so yourself. Your agent has a fiduciary duty to act in your best interests. They manage your financial affairs if you cannot due to an incapacity or even for your convenience, for example, if you travel frequently.
  • Health Care Directive. A health care directive, also called a living will or advance directive, guides your medical care and treatment when you cannot speak for yourself. You can name a person to access your medical records and make health care decisions for you if you cannot. You can also specify your wishes for life-sustaining treatment and end-of-life care.

Fortunately, making a valid will and creating other Iowa estate planning documents is easy with online estate planning templates.

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Written by:

Brette Sember, J.D.

Contributing Author

Reviewed by:

Catherine Hodder, Esq.

Senior Legal Writer