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Iowa Last Will and Testament

Written by our Legal Team

A Last Will and Testament (also simply called a “will”) is a legal document. It states your wishes for your property and minor children (if any) for after you pass away. It’s also where you name a personal representative to be in charge of settling your affairs.

The legal requirements for making a will in Iowa can be found in Iowa Code § 633.264. See below for the basics.

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Making a Will in Iowa

Iowa Will Requirements

To make a valid will in Iowa, certain legal requirements must be met. There are requirements for both the person making the will (called a “testator”), and for the will itself.

Testator Requirements

Regarding testators, the law says:

Any person of full age and sound mind may dispose by will of all the person’s property, except an amount sufficient to pay the debts and charges against the person’s estate. Iowa Code § 633.264.

Sound mind generally means that you’re aware of your actions when creating the will. More specifically, it means that at the time the will is made, you understand that you’re creating a will, the nature of the property you own, and to whom you’re leaving your property. Even a person with dementia or Alzheimer’s may be deemed to have a sound mind, if lucid at the moment of signing. If a testator believes there might be any doubt as to his or her mental capacity at the time of the signing, a letter from a doctor affirming mental competence generally can be included with the will.

Will Requirements

Regarding the will itself, the standard requirements are set forth in Iowa Code § 633.279.

The law says:

All wills and codicils . . . to be valid, must be in writing, signed by the testator, or by some person in the testator’s presence and by the testator’s express direction writing the testator’s name thereto, and declared by the testator to be the testator’s will, and witnessed, at the testator’s request, by two competent persons who signed as witnesses in the presence of the testator and in the presence of each other.

Although there are various exceptions and special rules, these are the standard requirements for Iowa wills.

Does my will need to be notarized?

You should definitely have your will notarized. Under Iowa law, a will that meets certain requirements — including proper notarization — is “self proved”. Iowa Code § 633.279. A self proved will can be admitted to probate court without the testimony of the witnesses to the will. (When a will that isn’t self proved is submitted to the probate court, the court will require testimony from witnesses, or other proof, to establish that the will is what it claims to be.)

How does it work? To make a will self-proved in Iowa, the testator and witnesses must sign a “self proving affidavit” before a notary public. An affidavit is a sworn statement, and a notary public is an officer of the court. Therefore, an affidavit before a notary public is like making a statement in court. So, when an affidavit states that the will was properly executed, it’s as good as in-court testimony, and the witnesses don’t need to show up when it’s time for the will to be admitted to court. Iowa Code § 633.279.

By the time a will is submitted to a court, it can be difficult to find witnesses and bring them all to court — not to mention the legal costs. So you should definitely make your will self proved to help your loved ones avoid this hassle.

Do I need an attorney to make a will in Iowa?

No. An attorney is not required to make a will in Iowa. For the vast majority of people, an attorney will simply do the same things that a good will-making software does — ask you questions and then create documents for you based on your information and wishes. However, in certain situations it is a good idea seek legal advice from an attorney, like if you have a child with special needs, or if you have a high net worth (around $10 million) and are concerned about federal estate taxes. In these cases, an attorney can help you navigate special questions and create a proper plan.

What if I have an old will in place?

Iowa law handles old wills in two ways. First, if you have an old will in place, you can cancel it by creating a new one. A good will usually contains a statement that it revokes (cancels) any prior wills. Second, a will can be cancelled simply by physically destroying it. Iowa Code § 633.284.

Do I need to file my will?

Under Iowa law, a will is filed with the court after the death of the testator. Iowa Code § 633.285. So, after you pass away, your will should be filed in your local probate court by the person named to be your personal representative (also called an “executor” or “administrator”). This will begin the legal process known as “probate” through which your wishes are carried out under court supervision.

In the meantime, store your will in a safe place and make sure the right people know where to find it. Note: It is not a good idea to store a will in a safe deposit box, because accessing the safe deposit box can depend on getting court approval, and getting court approval can depend on what the will says!

Are there limitations on how I can leave my property?

You can generally leave your property however you want. However, if you are married, your spouse is entitled to some portion of your property (unless a formal agreement was made). Most married individuals leave everything to their spouse anyway, so this usually doesn’t present a problem.

Some wills leave everything in a bundle, while others break out specific gifts for specific people. Some leave everything in equal shares, and others say that everything should be sold and the proceeds distributed in specific percentages.

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