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The Iowa Probate Process Explained

Article written by Illinois & Iowa Attorney Kevin O'Flaherty
Updated on
December 10, 2019

In this article, we explain the Iowa probate process by answering the following questions:

  • What is probate?
  • What is the purpose of probate in Iowa?
  • Are all assets subject to probate in Iowa?
  • Do I need an attorney for a probate case in Iowa?
  • When is probate necessary in Iowa?
  • The probate process in Iowa

What is probate?

Probate is the official manner in which an estate is settled under supervision of the court. When a person dies without an established will, an executor is appointed (typically a surviving spouse or adult child of the deceased) to gather and value owned assets, settle remaining debts, and distribute assets to heirs.

What is the purpose of probate in Iowa?

Probate prevents fraud and theft after a death. Without it, debts could go unpaid and assets could be improperly distributed.

Are all assets subject to probate in Iowa?

No, not all assets are subject to probate. Some are automatically transferred, even without being specified in a will. These include:

  • Any asset owned in joint tenancy — These assets automatically transfer to the joint tenant. This is also known as right of survivorship. An example would be a home.
  • Tenancy by the entirety — Similar to joint tenancy, tenancy by the entirety signals a survivor to own all property upon death. This is only available to married couples.
  • Beneficiary designations – These include retirement accounts and life insurance policies with named beneficiaries. Bank and brokerage accounts can also have designated beneficiaries.
  • Living trust – Anything in a living trust won’t go through probate (unless assets outside of the trust add up to more than Iowa’s small estate limit).

When is probate necessary in Iowa?

Iowa estates that exceed the small estate’s threshold, have no will, or have a will but no living trust will require probate before the estate can be transferred to beneficiaries.

Do I need an attorney for a probate case in Iowa?

Yes, Iowa requires attorneys in all probate cases.

The probate process in Iowa

Every case of probate is unique but there is a general procedure that most follow. Settling an estate via probate in Iowa may include the following steps.

  1. If the deceased had a will, it is filed in the District Court in the county of residence.
  2. A Petition for Probate is filed to request an executor appointment. When there is no will to determine an executor, the court will appoint someone. As required by law, notice must be given to all beneficiaries of an appointed executor.
  3. Once filed, a notice announcing the Petition for Probate is published in a newspaper where the deceased resided. The purpose of the publishing is to notify creditors, who then have four months to make a claim against the estate.
  4. Letters Testamentary are issued to the executor, granting them legal authority to act on behalf of the estate.
  5. An inventory of all assets is filed with the court.
  6. After all debts have been settled, a Petition to close probate is filed.

After a court-issued order, property is distributed to beneficiaries.

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