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What Happens if Someone Dies Without a Will?

On Behalf of | Apr 5, 2023 | Estate Planning

Dealing with the death of a loved one is emotional and challenging. Taking care of their estate can add additional stress, especially if they don’t have a will. When someone dies without a will, determining what they own may be more challenging. Additionally, intestacy law will determine how their assets are distributed if they don’t name any beneficiaries.

Who Is In Charge of Distributing the Assets?

When someone dies without a will, the court appoints an administrator to lead the property distribution process. Typically, the court will appoint one of the deceased’s adult family members living in Iowa. However, in some cases, the court can appoint someone who does not live in Iowa.

The administrator must act in the estate’s best interest while performing their duties, which include:

  • Identifying and locating all the deceased’s assets: Without a will, it may be harder to identify their property, including insurance policies, bank accounts, and brokerage accounts. However, this is one of the duties of an administrator, so make sure you’re up to the task before volunteering for the role.
  • Paying outstanding debts and taxes: The administrator is also responsible for settling debts. This can include funeral expenses, medical bills, and taxes.
  • Notifying claimants: Under Iowa law, the administrator must inform claimants that the estate is going through probate. An administrator satisfies this requirement by publishing a notice to creditors.
  • Distributing assets: Additionally, under Iowa’s intestacy law, the administrator must distribute the estate’s holdings. This can include transferring real estate to the deceased’s heir.
  • Filing necessary tax returns: The estate’s administrator must also file federal and state tax returns for the estate. Additionally, when the estate owes taxes, the administrator must pay those taxes out of the estate funds.

As you can see, the administrator has an important job, but it is important to note that they only get a portion of the estate if they are also an heir of the deceased entitled to the estate under intestacy law.

What Is Probate and How Long Does it Take

An estate must go through probate for distribution of assets if its value is over $50,000 or if the deceased owned real property. During the probate process, claimants can come forward and make claims for payment of the decedent’s debts or make claims as heirs to the estate.

The length of the probate process depends on the complexity of the estate. As a result, if the estate is large, a substantial number of claimants or heirs might make the probate process longer. Most probates will close in several months, but complex cases can take over a year to close.

What Is a Very Small Estate in Iowa?

Under Iowa law, you can distribute the assets through an affidavit if an estate is worth $50,000 or less and has no real property. As a result, when the estate is small, distribution usually happens faster because the estate doesn’t have to go through probate.

Distribution of Estates When There Is No Will

When someone dies without a valid will, their estate will be distributed under Iowa law. Under this law, distribution is:

  • To your surviving spouse, if you have a surviving spouse and no children, or your children are also your surviving spouse
  • To your children and your surviving spouse, if you have children with someone other than your surviving spouse
  • To your children, if you have no surviving spouse
  • To your parents, if you have no surviving spouse or children

Iowa probate law also deals with distribution if the deceased has no surviving heirs. The goal is for an heir to get your estate no matter how distant. In extreme situations where there is no heir, the estate will go to the state of Iowa.

Contact Telpner Peterson Law Firm, LLP Today!

The attorneys of Telpner Peterson Law Firm, LLP have experienced estate planning and probate attorneys. With our knowledge, we can help you ensure your assets go to your named beneficiaries through an estate plan. Additionally, we can help you probate and distribute estates, no matter the situation.

To discuss your legal options, contact us at 712-309-3738 today for a confidential consultation.