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.
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:
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.
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|
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.
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.
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.
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.
Here are a few other things to know about Iowa intestacy laws.
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 Nolo.com.