The days, weeks, and months after the death of a loved one are difficult. There is grief, uncertainty, and sometimes, even anger. These emotions can bring family members together, but this painful time can also exacerbate disputes, open old wounds, and create division.
Unfortunately, sometimes families in Council Bluffs, IA find that distribution of an estate and handling other probate matters can be the source of division and argument. Family disagreements sometimes arise after the death of a loved one because the state’s default inheritance plan where there is not a will seems unfair. Proper estate planning in life is the best way to avoid family disagreements after a loved one’s death.
The Probate Process
In the absence of a last will and testament there are specific Iowa statutes that determine how assets are divided after death. In this instance, the very process of probate can be frustrating. The statute will determine how the assets are divided, after funeral expenses, taxes, certain other debts, and valid claims against the estate are paid. Surviving spouses generally take a priority. If there isn’t a surviving spouse, then children receive the entirety of the estate.
This process of elimination continues until an heir is identified, or the estate escheats to the State of Iowa. While this system is logical and determines a rational system for dividing an estate, it may not reflect the deceased’s wishes or intentions.
It is impossible for the statutory process in Iowa to determine if the deceased would have preferred part of his estate pass directly to grandchildren or if an estranged child should be omitted. The only way to address these preferences and wishes after death is through estate planning.
Putting Together Your Will
The first step in proper estate planning is to create a last will and testament. This important document allows you to specify which individuals and organizations should receive assets from your estate after death. You can allocate specific property to specific individuals or arrange for a charity or other non-profit to receive property. This document will better reflect your desires than the state’s inheritance plan. And when your wishes are clearly stated, it can diffuse certain family arguments.
You want to make absolutely certain your will is valid. There are certain formalities required by Iowa law to create a valid last will and testament. These include that it is written down, there is a declaration by the maker that the will is his or hers, the will is executed by the maker, and two competent witnesses sign in the presence of the individual making the will. You also want to write a will early in life and update it frequently as circumstances in your life change.
Maintenance of your estate planning documents is an essential part of proper estate planning. Ensuring your will is always updated and accurate to current circumstances can prevent many disagreements down the road.
Other Probate Options
An estate planning attorney in Iowa can also offer specific options for keeping some of your assets outside the probate process. Probate is a court supervised process, and in many instances isn’t necessary for division of assets. Avoiding probate can sometimes ensure more efficient division of assets.
A living trust is one estate planning instrument that can keep assets out of probate. Nearly all assets can be placed in a living trust, including bank accounts and real property. A lawyer experienced in estate planning will be capable of creating the documents and structure necessary for a living trust.
Another option for avoiding probate is joint ownership of assets and property. Creating a right of survivorship in jointly owned property means such property will pass directly to the other owner in the event of your death. Probate is not needed. Beneficiaries can be named on life insurance policies, investments, bank accounts, and retirement accounts.
Best Options For Your Estate
Proper estate planning is incredibly personal and individual. It is not possible for an estate planning attorney to determine the best techniques and instruments to utilize without knowing all assets, individuals, and interests involved. Therefore, to start the estate planning process you must speak with a knowledgeable lawyer.
At Telpner Peterson Law Firm, Jack Ruesch has spent many years developing a practice in wills and probate, elder law, and other issues of estate planning. His past experience is your benefit, as the team at Telpner Peterson Law Firm is poised to handle the most complex estate planning situation. You can learn more about our estate planning and probate practice by visiting the Telpner Peterson Law Firm website.