The first in a three-part series, this blog will provide you with a basic understanding of the specific legal requirements to draft a valid will pursuant to Iowa law. State statutes establish the rights that decedents have to devise their property to their loved ones. In Iowa, Chapter 633 of the Iowa Code is the Iowa Probate Code.
According to the Iowa Probate Code, if you draft a legally sufficient will, you may direct how your named personal representative or executor will devise your property. If you die without a written will, you are subject to the default rules established by the Iowa Probate Codes intestacy statutes. Typically, states base their intestacy statute conveyances on an order of preference by kinship or bloodline.
So what is required to create a will in Iowa? The simple answer is a few things. First, Iowa law requires that testators be adults or at least 18 years old. If you are legally emancipated, or married before age 18, you may be able to legally draft a will without attaining the age of majority. Second, you must be legally competent and of sound mind. Third, your will must be in writing. It may be handwritten or typed, but it must be in writing. Fourth, you must sign your will in front of two or more witnesses. Your witnesses must be at least 16 years old and legally competent. Fifth, you must have your witnesses sign your will in front of each other and you. Finally, you must make an oral or written statement to your witnesses that what you and they are signing is your last will and testament.
At first glance, these statutory requirements appear simple enough. However, each element is subject to a legal challenge and strictly scrutinized by probate judges. For example, if your written will intentionally disinherits Cousin John, and gives a disproportionately large share to Cousin Mary (your favorite cousin), Cousin John can challenge your will and attempt to invalidate it based on improper formation.
Read the next blog for more on the dramatic unfolding of Cousin John, Cousin Mary and the basics of Iowa probate laws.