Intestate Succession in Iowa

What happens if you die without a will? Learn about intestacy in Iowa.

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If you die without a will in Iowa, your assets will go to your closest relatives under state "intestate succession" laws. Here are some details about how intestate succession works in Iowa.

Which Assets Pass by Intestate Succession

Only assets that pass through probate are affected by intestate succession laws. Many valuable assets don't go through probate, and therefore aren't affected by intestate succession laws. Here are some examples:

  • property you've transferred to a living trust
  • life insurance proceeds with a named beneficiary
  • funds in an IRA, 401(k), or other retirement account with a named beneficiary
  • securities held in a transfer-on-death account
  • real estate for which you have a transfer on death deed
  • vehicles for which you have a transfer on death registration
  • payable-on-death bank accounts, or
  • property you own with someone else in joint tenancy or tenancy by the entirety.

These assets will pass to the surviving co-owner or to the beneficiary you named, whether or not you have a will. However, if you don't have a will and none of the named beneficiaries are alive to take the property, then the property could end up being transferred according to intestate succession.

To learn more about these types of assets, go to the How to Avoid Probate section of or read about Avoiding Probate in Iowa.

Who Gets What in Iowa?

Under intestate succession, who gets what depends on whether or not you have living children, parents, or other close relatives when you die. Here's a quick overview:

If you die with:

here's what happens:

children but no spouse children inherit everything
spouse but no descendants spouse inherits everything
spouse and descendants from you and that spouse spouse inherits everything
spouse and at least one descendant from you and someone other than that spouse spouse inherits 1/2 of your intestate real estate and at least 1/2 of your intestate personal property, provided the spouse's share is worth at least $50,000

descendants inherit everything else
parents but no spouse or descendants parents inherit everything
siblings but no spouse, descendants, or parents siblings inherit everything

The Spouse's Share in Iowa

In Iowa, if you are married and you die without a will, what your spouse gets depends on whether or not you have living descendants -- that is, children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren -- from a previous relationship. If you don't, then your spouse inherits all of your intestate property. If you do, they and your spouse will share your intestate property.

In most situations, your surviving spouse and your children from the previous relationship will split your property 50/50. However, your spouse's share must always equal at least $50,000. If the amount falls short, it will be made up from the property left to your children.

Example: Jed and Barrett have been married for 30 years and have two grown children. Jed also has a grown daughter, Anna, from a previous marriage. Jed and Barrett own a house in joint tenancy, and Jed owns $400,000 worth of additional, separate property that would have passed under a will if he had made one. When Jed dies, Barrett inherits the house outright (it is not intestate property) plus $200,000 worth of Jed's intestate property. Anna inherits the remaining $200,000 share of Jed's intestate property.

Children's Shares in Iowa

If you die without a will in Iowa, your children will receive an "intestate share" of your property. The size of each child's share depends on how many children you have, whether or not you are married, and whether your spouse is also their parent (See the table above.)

For children to inherit from you under the laws of intestacy, the state of Iowa must consider them your children, legally. For many families, this is not a confusing issue. But it's not always clear. Here are some things to keep in mind.

  • Adopted children. Children you legally adopted will receive an intestate share, just as your biological children do. Iowa Code § 633.223.
  • Foster children and stepchildren. Foster children and stepchildren you never legally adopted will not automatically receive a share.
  • Children placed for adoption. Children you placed for adoption and who were legally adopted by another family will not receive a share. However, if your biological children were adopted by your spouse, that won't affect their intestate inheritance. Iowa Code § 633.223.
  • Posthumous children. Children conceived by you but not born before your death will receive a share. If, however, the child is born as the result of the implantation of an embryo after your death, that child will inherit only if (1) there is a proven genetic parent-child relationship, (2) you authorized your surviving spouse to use your genetic material, (3) the child is born within two years of your death, and (4) any of your heirs whose share of your estate would be reduced by the birth of the child is given one year from the time of the birth to contest the child's right to inherit. Iowa Code § 633.220A.
  • Children born outside of marriage. If you were not married to your children's mother when she gave birth to them, they will receive a share of your estate if your paternity is legally established, you openly and generally acknowledged paternity, or you acknowledged it in writing. Iowa Code § 633.222.
  • Grandchildren. A grandchild will receive a share only if that grandchild's parent (your son or daughter) is not alive to receive his or her share. Iowa Code § 633.219.

If you want to read the law, Iowa Code § § 633.220 to 633.223 cover parent-child relationships. You can search the Iowa code by visiting the website of the Iowa State Legislature.

This can be a tricky area of the law, so if you have questions about your relationship to your parent or child, get help from an experienced attorney.

Will the State Get Your Property?

If you die without a will and don't have any family, your property will "escheat" into the state's coffers. However, this very rarely happens because the laws are designed to get your property to anyone who was even remotely related to you. For example, your property won't go to the state if you leave a spouse, children, siblings, parents, grandparents, great grandparents, aunts or uncles, great uncles or aunts, nieces or nephews, cousins of any degree, or the descendants of a spouse who dies before you do.

Other Iowa Intestate Succession Rules

Here are a few other things to know about Iowa intestacy laws.

  • Half-relatives. Iowa treats "half" relatives differently than "whole" relatives. Brothers and sisters only take from the parent that was their shared blood parent. The estate of the parents is divided into halves, one half for each deceased parent. For example, Abigail died intestate and has a whole-blood brother Bob and a half-blood brother Calvin. They all had the same father, but Calvin had a different mother than Abigail. Abigail's estate is dived into two parts, one for her mother's line and one for her father's line. The part from Abigail's mother's line passes to Bob. The part from her father's line is divided between Bob and Calvin. Therefore, Bob receives 3/4 of Abigail's estate and Calvin receives 1/4 of the estate. Iowa Code § 633.219.
  • Posthumous relatives. Relatives conceived before -- but born after -- you die inherit as if they had been born while you were alive. Iowa Code § 633.220.
  • Immigration status. Relatives entitled to an intestate share of your property will inherit whether or not they are citizens or legally in the United States. Iowa Code § 633.41.
  • Advancements. If you give a relative property during your lifetime, the value of this gift can be subtracted from that relative's share, but there is a presumption that the property is a gift and not an advancement. This presumption can be rebutted. Iowa Code § 633.224.

Learn More

To learn more about intestate succession, read How an Estate Is Settled If There's No Will.

You can find Iowa's intestate succession laws in Sections 633.212 to 633.226 of the Iowa Code. You can search the code by visiting the website of the Iowa State Legislature.

For more about estate planning, go to the Wills, Trusts & Probate section of

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