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Joseph Lyons

In this article, we will discuss how inheritance works when illegitimate children are involved in Iowa. We will discuss: 

  • How is legitimization of a child determined in Iowa? 
  • What are the rules of descent and distribution for intestate inheritance in Iowa? 
  • Who inherits what in the death of an illegitimate child in Iowa? 

How is legitimation of a child determined in Iowa? 

The Iowa Probate Code states that a child inherits from his or her biological father, if the evidence proving paternity is available during the father’s lifetime, or if the child has been recognized by the father as his child. This recognition must be “general and notorious” (i.e., everyone knows about it) or in writing. We discussed establishing paternity in Iowa in this article.  

The Iowa rule for establishing the paternity of an illegitimate child is unusual. Iowa Code Section 633.222 says that the biological child will inherit from its father if the evidence proving paternity is available during the father’s lifetime, or if the child has been recognized by the father as his child; but the recognition must have been general and notorious, or in writing. However, Iowa Courts have specifically held that the child is required to show both the evidence proving paternity and that the rather recognized the child as his. In 2014, the Court of Appeals confirmed, in Mohr v. Langerman, (858 N.W.2d 36 (Iowa Ct. App. 2014)), that an illegitimate child must prove both paternity and recognition by the father to be an heir.  

This is an important consideration for fathers of children out of wedlock. If a father wishes for an illegitimate child to take under intestacy laws, he should be sure to take steps to recognizing the child in writing. In the context of heirship, recognition means the father admitted or acknowledged paternity. It doesn’t have to be universal or so general that it is known by all people; recognition is a mental process… made manifest by overt acts or speech. Even if the child is concealed from some people, a father may still recognize paternity.  

A contested heir must show heirship by clear and convincing evidence. Someone contesting an illegitimate child’s heirship must also prove they are not an heir by clear and convincing evidence.  

What happens when someone dies without a will in Iowa? 

When someone in Iowa dies without a will, they are referred to as dying “intestate.” The Iowa Probate code provides statutes governing intestacy laws that determine who may inherit the deceased individual’s probate property. Probate property is distributed by an administrator, who is in charge of paying the deceased individual’s debts and winding up the estate. Some assets, such as property held in joint tenancy, life insurance payouts, and other accounts with a named beneficiary avoid probate.  

Different states have different rules for intestate succession, the order in which heirs inherit the decedent’s assets.  

A surviving spouse will inherit all the decedent’s property. If there is no surviving spouse, but there are children, the children will inherit the property.  

In a scenario where the decedent has a spouse, but also children from another relationship, things become more complicated. The spouse will receive half of any real property, plus half of any personal property if the property is worth at least  $50,000.00. Any descendants will receive the rest. If the spouse’s share is worth less than $50,000.00, the difference will be made up from the descendants’ share.  

Who inherits upon the death of illegitimate children in Iowa? 

Under Iowa Intestacy law, if a child dies without a spouse and without children, their parents will inherit everything. Iowa Chapter 633.222 says “under such circumstances (paternity established and father recognizes child), if the recognition has been mutual, and the child has not been adopted, the father may inherit from his biological child.” Although there has not been a recent case on this issue,  a court would likely say that for a biological father to take from an illegitimate son paternity and recognition need to be determined, both ways. There hasn’t been mutual recognition, the child’s mother would inherit everything. If the child’s mother has died, the descendant’s siblings would inherit everything.  


Disclaimer: The information provided on this blog is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject matter. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute an attorney-client relationship. Each individual's legal needs are unique, and these materials may not be applicable to your legal situation. Always seek the advice of a competent attorney with any questions you may have regarding a legal issue. Do not disregard professional legal advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog.


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