The probate process can be long and drawn-out, costing your survivors time as well as money. Fortunately, Iowa offers two probate shortcuts for "small estates." If the property you leave behind at your death is below a certain amount, Iowa allows the property to be transferred more quickly and with less hassle. In other words, if your estate qualifies as "small," your loved ones may be able to use simplified probate procedures, or even skip probate entirely.
Iowa offers a procedure that allows inheritors to skip probate altogether. To qualify, the estate (the property you own at death) must meet these requirements:
If your estate meets the requirements listed above, all your inheritor has to do is sign a simple document under oath, called an affidavit. The document must include certain information, such as:
After signing the document (and swearing to its truthfulness) and having it notarized, the inheritor simply presents the affidavit to the person or institution holding the property—for example, a bank where the deceased person had an account. The inheritor will usually also need to provide a certified copy of the death certificate. After that, the person or institution releases the asset. This process skips probate court entirely.
Another probate shortcut that Iowa offers is a simplified probate process for small estates, called small estate administration. Unlike the affidavit procedure discussed above, summary administration does not allow your survivors to skip probate. However, the probate process is much more streamlined than full probate, saving time, probate fees, and potentially lawyer fees.
You can use summary administration in Iowa if the gross value of the entire probate estate (meaning all of the property that the deceased person left behind that is subject to probate) does not exceed $200,000. (Iowa Code § 635.1.)
Note that even if the property you own is worth more than $200,000, your survivors may still be able to take advantage of the small estate proceeding. That's because certain types of property don't count go through probate, and therefore don't count in the tally. These types of property include:
In other words, even relatively large estates might still qualify as a "small estate" for these purposes.
If the estate qualifies, the survivors can file a petition for small estate administration with the local probate court. This petition must include information such as:
The personal representative must then file a "probate inventory." This is simply a list of assets, with probate and nonprobate assets separated out. (Iowa Code 635.7.) It helps the court ensure that the estate falls under the $200,000 limit. The personal representative will also file a closing statement (whose requirements can be found in Iowa Code 635.8), and provide copies to all interested parties. Thirty days after the closing statement is provided to interested parties, if no objections are filed, the property can be distributed according to the statement.
While it might sound like small estate administration in Iowa requires many steps, rest assured that the procedure is much more streamlined than full-blown probate. If your estate qualifies as a small estate, it won't have to jump through many of the hoops of full probate, and your loved ones won't have as long of a wait.
For more help handling an estate in general, see The Executor's Guide, by Mary Randolph (Nolo). For an introduction to how you can plan your estate to help your survivors, try Estate Planning Basics, by Denis Clifford (Nolo).
For more on Iowa estate planning issues, see our section on Iowa Estate Planning.