How a Will is Made
A will is a legal document that allows a person to say how they would like to distribute their estate which is made up of certain property they own, including any pets, at their death. In order to write a valid will, the person must be at least 18 years old or married and of “sound mind.” The will must be signed by the maker of the will in front of at least two competent witnesses who are at least 16 years old. The two witness must also sign the will in front of the maker of the will and each other. Lastly, the maker of the will must tell the witnesses that it is the maker’s will. A will is an important legal document. Though a person does not have to use an attorney to make a will, an attorney can make sure a person’s last wishes are known and properly carried out. The will is the person’s will until they die or change it. See Iowa Code chapter 633.
Death with a Will - Testate
If a person dies with a will they are said to have died “testate.” In the will, a person can name someone to handle the will once the person dies who job it is to see that the will is followed. This person is a called the “executor.” There can be a second person named in case the first person cannot or is unwilling to serve. If there is no one named or willing to serve as the executor, the court will pick someone. Depending on the size of the deceased person’s estate, the will may or may not have to be “probated” which is a court process to distribute the property. The executor should speak with an attorney before doing anything with the will or the property.
Death Without a Will - Intestate
If a person dies without a will they are said to have died “intestate.” In that case, the person does not have say over where their property goes, and it will be distributed as provided by state law. Generally, state law provides that property will be used to pay debts and expenses of the deceased person and leftover property goes to relatives in a certain order based on marriage and relationship to the deceased person. For example, if a person dies without a will, though the person might have wanted their friend to have their house, the house might by law go to a relative, even a distant relative the deceased person did not know. Because the list of people who can inherit the property, including people related only by marriage, it is rare that a deceased person’s property ever goes to the State.
Where can I get more information?
- Iowa Find-A-Lawyer is an online directory of attorneys provided by the Iowa State Bar Association. Information can also be found in its Older Iowans Handbook.
- Iowa Legal Aid is a non-profit agency that provides legal assistance to low-income and vulnerable Iowans. Information can be found on the Iowa Legal Aid website and they can be reached by phone at 800-532-1503 or, for Iowans 60 or older, 800-992-8161.