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Kevin O'Flaherty

If you came to this page, you were likely researching the Probate process in Iowa and have questions pertaining to the Probate process in Iowa. If you are simply inquiring about the Probate process, this article will help you become informed about the probate process in Iowa. We provide an overview of the Probate Process in Iowa, challenge a will in Iowa, explain what is and is not probate property, explain circumstances where you do not need to go through probate, and lastly give any updates on Iowa Probate laws.  There have been no substantial changes made to Iowa probate law for 2024.

Iowa passed current legislation that became effective January 1st, 2022, Iowa Code § 633.31 which eliminates the sliding scale fee for the settling of an estate. The new law states that Iowa probate court services fees and costs for the decedent’s estate will be charged by the clerk based on the probate assets in the decedent's inventory. This amount is fixed at .2% determined by the total value of assets in the decedent’s estate. These costs are only collected on probate assets, all others do not count towards the total value. This law will only apply to Probate cases filed in Iowa on or after January 1st, 2022, and will not apply to any cases filed before that date.

Iowa probate

What is the Probate Process in Iowa?

If you have a will in Iowa, then it is mandatory that your will go through the Iowa Probate Courts in order to determine if your will was validly executed. If the court determines that the will was validly executed and unambiguous then you, being the testator (now deceased), should have no worries as the beneficiaries or heirs of your will, likely will receive the property you left for them. The court essentially will carry out your last wishes and distribute the property listed in your will.  

If there is unfortunately a will dispute, where one of the beneficiaries challenges the validity of the will, then the Probate process will take a long time to resolve, lawyers will become involved and the court process continues. If you owed debts then your creditors will become involved in the Probate proceedings.

Here is what to expect when a probate case commences:

  1. The will and a probate petition are filed with the Iowa Probate Court.
  1. The Probate Court will appoint an executor of the estate or a personal representative of the Estate who is responsible to manage the deceased testator’s estate.
  1. Notice of the Probate action must be filed in the newspaper to give notice to the decedents or testator’s creditors, so that they may collect any money from the estate if they are owed anything.  
  1. Next, the executor of the estate must inventory all of the property and assets in the decedent’s estate and determine the fair market value of those assets and property in case they need to be sold at an estate sale or auction to pay off the decedent’s debts.
  1. The decedent’s tax returns must be filed, and the taxes must be paid.
  1. After all of the creditors are paid off from the estate the remaining balance in the estate will be distributed to the beneficiaries of the testator’s will in accordance with the terms of the will. Probate is then completed and the Probate case is closed.

Check out our article, Iowa Probate FAQs – Everything You Need To Know About Iowa Probate, for more information on probate laws.  

Challenging a Will in Iowa

If you are the person or will beneficiary who is challenging the will in Iowa, there may be certain situations where you may get the will invalidated. You must know that the burden of proof to invalidate the will is the person seeking to invalidate it, so you are the one who has to convince the court that the will is not valid in the Probate Court. The two most common grounds for invalidating or “setting-aside” a will are that 1. The testator lacked testamentary capacity to make a will and 2.the testator was subjected to undue influence, and thus the will is invalid.

the person challenging the will must show that one of the following elements are not met in order to show that the testator lacked testamentary capacity to make the will.  

“For the testator to have the mental capacity to create a will he or she must realize and comprehend  

  1. Nature of the instrument then being executed.
  1. The nature and extent of the decedent’s real and personal property.
  1. The natural objects of the decedent’s bounty
  1. The distribution the testator desires to make of her property”

In re Estate of Henrich, 389 N.W.2d 78, 81 (Iowa Ct. App.1986).

Challenging a will in Iowa

The person challenging the will must show that several elements are met in order to show that the testator was subjected to undue influence where the will is considered invalid:

“To set aside the testator's will on grounds of undue influence, the contestant must prove four elements:

  1. The testator was susceptible to undue influence.  
  1. The defendants had an opportunity to exercise undue influence and effect their wrongful purpose.
  1. The defendants were inclined to unduly influence the testator to procure an improper favor.
  1. The result, reflected in the will, was the clear effect of undue influence.  

The contestant must prove undue influence by a preponderance of the evidence, but the causation element requires clear proof.”

Estate of Arnold v. Arnold, 2019 Iowa App. LEXIS 640, *1, 938 N.W.2d 720, 2019 WL 3317381

How Long Does Probate Take in Iowa?

Probate usually can be completed within 1 years’ time, but if there is a probate dispute among the heirs/beneficiaries of the decedent/testator’s will, the testator’s creditors become involved, or the court determines the will is invalid, it can take up to 5 years. This is why it is critical that you speak to an attorney regarding any impending probate issues, at O’Flaherty Law, we have highly experienced and talented Probate attorneys that can solve the probate issues that you are currently dealing with.  

Why Is a Will Important in Iowa Probate Matters?

A will is a document that directs your last wishes, you the testator (person who created the will) to your heirs or beneficiaries of the will. Generally speaking, you just need one document in writing created by the testator declaring that the document is their will, witnessed by two witnesses who are of the proper age and sound mind, and signed by the testator.  

Nobody enjoys thinking about their death, but a will is a very important document that comes into play when you die. If you have children that are under the age of majority in Iowa it is age 18, and you pass away you want to state in your will who you want to be named as the person or persons responsible for your children’s care, housing, financial, and educational needs, if you do not have a will this can be a traumatic and stressful time for your children and the courts will have to become involved.  

Probate assets to beneficiaries

When you die without having a will in place, your estate goes intestate. Learn more about Iowa Intestacy Laws in our article.

Many things pass in your will such as property not owned in a Joint-tenancy, personal property, banking accounts, and other property that you own.  

Some assets that you have will not pass to your beneficiaries under a will these are:

  1. Life Insurance Proceeds - These funds go to the named beneficiary or beneficiaries of the life insurance policy.
  1. Real Property Owned in Joint Tenancy - These types of tenancies are real properties that are jointly owned and pass to the other party upon the others death.
  1. Real Property Conveyed During the Decedent’s Lifetime - Prior conveyances that have already been completed before the death of the decedent.
  1. Annuities and Retirement/Pension Accounts - Annuities and retirement accounts are accounts that are designed for retirement, examples are 401K accounts, work-based pension accounts.
  1. Paid on Death or POD Accounts - which will pass to the named beneficiary at the moment of your death.
  1. Transfer on Death Accounts - which will pass to the named beneficiary at the moment of your death.
  1. Real Property Not Owned In The State Of Iowa - All real property that is not owned in the state of Iowa, property owned in other states or outside of the United States.
  1. Property Held in Trust - Property that is held in a trust will pass to the people you designated it to pass to.

Avoiding Probate in Iowa

One strategy when dealing with probate is to not deal with probate at all. It may sound confusing but there are plenty of workarounds to avoid going through the Iowa Probate process. If you have a good plan then most likely you can avoid probate all together, however, you must proceed with caution as there may be an increase in taxes and costs by avoiding probate. If you own no real property, for example you only rent your home then this will avoid probate. If your property is held in a joint tenancy or a trust you may avoid probate. Your life insurance and retirement accounts will avoid probate. Your Paid on Death Accounts and Transfer on death accounts avoid probate. All real property owned outside of the state of Iowa will avoid probate. Any property held in a trust will pass to the beneficiaries that are identified in the trust. If the decedents estate is valued at less than $25K and consists only of personal property with to real property (real estate) then a probate proceeding is not required, and the estate can be paid to the heirs/beneficiaries after the decedent’s creditors are paid in full.  

Why Having A Will Is Important

If all you have is non-probate property then you can avoid the probate process upon your death, but it is not advisable. If you receive a windfall of money that is unexpected your will covers where you want that money to go to. A will acts like a road-map through a probate dispute. Often times heirs and beneficiaries to a testators will, become angry and entitled to property in the Testators estate, this may be due to the fact of the Testator making promises during his or her lifetime to his/her heirs/beneficiaries and then later changing his mind or by the testator changing his mind and therefore changing his last will and testament. Other times the testator has a change in life circumstances and decides to not change his will or forgetting to change his will and this causes issues to arise. This is why it is a very good idea to change your will early and often to avoid potential probate disputes in the future after you are deceased.  

Changes in Iowa Probate Law

Effective January 1, 2022 the Iowa legislature passed a new law Iowa House Bill 711 on June 8th 2021 Iowa Code § 633.31 pertaining to probate court costs in court-administered trusts, guardianship actions, conservatorship actions, and decedents estates where there is a petition that is filed. It is important to note that this new law Iowa Code § 633.31 will only pertain to probate matters filed on or after January 1, 2022. The new law eliminates the sliding scale fee for the settling of an estate. The new law states that Iowa probate court services fees and costs for the decedent’s estate will charged by the clerk based on the probate assets in the decedents inventory. This amount is fixed at .2% determined by the total value of assets in the decedent’s estate. These costs are only collected on probate assets, all others do not count towards the total value.  

Iowa Probate court fees will not be charged in the case of assets being transferred from conservatorship to an estate administered in Iowa and in cases where Probate Court fees have already been deducted from a conservatorship.

Iowa Probate Court Fees for conservatorship actions should be the total gross value of inventory minus the life insurance proceeds and then .2% of the remaining assets left in the estate that a probate asset.

Request a consultation with one of our skilled probate attorneys today. Call our office at (630) 324-6666 or schedule a consultation with one of our experienced lawyers today. You can also fill out our confidential contact form and we will get back to you shortly.

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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