Making a Will in Iowa

How to make a will in Iowa and what can happen if you don't.

Updated by , Attorney · George Mason University Law School

Steps to Create a Will in Iowa

Here's a quick checklist for making a will in Iowa:

  1. Decide what property to include in your will.
  2. Decide who will inherit your property.
  3. Choose an executor to handle your estate.
  4. Choose a guardian for your children.
  5. Choose someone to manage children's property.
  6. Make your will.
  7. Sign your will in front of witnesses.
  8. Store your will safely.

Why Should I Make an Iowa Will?

A will, also called a "last will and testament," can help you protect your family and your property. You can use a will to:

  • leave your property to people or organizations
  • name a personal guardian to care for your minor children
  • name a trusted person to manage property you leave to minor children, and
  • name an executor, the person who makes sure that the terms of your will are carried out.

What Happens if I Don't Have a Will?

In Iowa, if you die without a will, your property will be distributed according to state "intestacy" laws. Iowa's intestacy law gives your property to your closest relatives, beginning with your spouse and children. If you have neither a spouse nor children, your grandchildren or your parents will get your property. This list continues with increasingly distant relatives, including siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, and your spouse's relatives. If the court exhausts this list to find that you have no living relatives by blood or marriage, the state will take your property.

Do I Need a Lawyer to Make a Will in Iowa?

No. You can make your own will in Iowa, using Nolo's Quicken WillMaker & Trust. However, you may want to consult a lawyer in some situations. For example, if you think that your will might be contested or you have especially complicated goals, you should talk with an attorney. See Do I Need an Attorney to Make My Estate Plan?

What Are the Requirements for Making a Will in Iowa?

To make a will in Iowa, you must be:

  • of "full age," and
  • of sound mind.

(Iowa Code § 633.264 (2023).)

In this situation, "full age" means that you are:

  • at least 18 years old, or
  • married, even if your marriage ended in divorce. (Iowa Code § 633.3 (2023).)

You must make your will on hard copy. That is, it must be on actual paper. It cannot be on an audio, video, or any other digital file. (Although, see "Can I Make a Digital or Electronic Will?," below.) Type and print your will using a computer, or you can use a typewriter. Iowa does not permit handwritten wills.

How Do I Sign My Iowa Will?

To finalize your will in Iowa:

  • you must sign your will in front of two witnesses, and
  • your witnesses must sign your will.

(Iowa Code § 633.279 (2023).)

You must declare that the document you're signing is your will in the presence of your two witnesses. "Presence" traditionally has meant being in the same room. But Iowa now lets witnesses sign your will remotely if they're able to watch and hear you in real time using audio-video technology. Their signatures then will be combined into your final will. (Iowa Code § 633.279 (2023).)

Your witnesses must be 16 years of age or older. Neither witness should stand to inherit under the will or they can lose the gift left to them. (Iowa Code §§ 633.280; 633.281 (2023).)

Do I Need to Have My Will Notarized?

No, in Iowa, you do not need to notarize your will to make it legal.

However, Iowa allows you to make your will "self-proving" and you'll need to use a notary if you want to do that. A self-proving will speeds up probate because the court can accept the will without contacting the witnesses who signed it.

To make your will self-proving, you and your witnesses must use a notary and sign an affidavit that proves who you are and that each of you knew you were signing the will. You may use a remote notary who is able to hear and see you in real time through the use of audio-video technology. (Iowa Code §§ 9B.14A; § 633.279 (2023).)

Should I Use My Will to Name an Executor?

Yes. In Iowa, you can use your will to name an executor who will ensure that the provisions in your will are carried out after your death. Nolo's Quicken WillMaker & Trust produces a letter to your executor that generally explains what the job requires. If you don't name an executor, the probate court will appoint someone to take on the job of winding up your estate.

Can I Revoke or Change My Will?

In Iowa, you may revoke or change your will at any time. You can revoke your will by:

  • canceling or destroying it with the intent to revoke it
  • instructing someone else to cancel or destroy it with the intent to revoke it
  • making a new will that says it revokes the old one.

Your act of revocation must also be witnessed by two people.

(Iowa Code § 633.284 (2023).)

If you and your spouse divorce or your marriage is annulled, any gift you gave your spouse or their relative in the will and any provision that named your spouse or their relative as an executor or trustee is automatically revoked unless your will expressly says otherwise. (Iowa Code § 633.271 (2023).)

If you need to make changes to your will, it's best to revoke it and make a new one. However, if you have only very simple changes to make, you could add an amendment to your existing will – this is called a codicil. In either case, you will need to finalize your changes with the same formalities you used to make your original will (see above).

Can I Make a Digital or Electronic Will?

In a handful of states, you can make a legal will digitally—that is, you can make the will, sign it, and have it witnessed without ever printing it out. Although such electronic wills are currently available in only a minority of states, many other states are considering making electronic wills legal. Iowa currently doesn't allow e-wills, but that may change in the future.

Where Can I Find Iowa's Laws About Making Wills?

You can find Iowa's laws about making wills here:

Title XV Judicial Branch and Judicial Procedures, Subtitle 4 Probate - Fiduciaries ,Chapter 633 Probate Code, Subchapter VI Wills.

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