What to Do When Someone Living in Iowa Dies

Besides taxes, the other sure thing in life is that it comes to an end eventually.  A common question becomes "what's next?"  (I'll skip the whole afterlife heaven and hell discourse and stick to the worldly issues.)  And of course you have the whole "what to do with the body issue".

Depending on the planning that was done beforehand will dictate a lot that will be done afterwards.  For example, if the decedent properly used a revocable trust, it may not be necessary to go through the probate process.  Good planning and organization prior to our "time" is important in helping to alleviate the work that our family and friends are forced to go through.

Transfer of Assets

If all of the assets were held jointly, it may not be necessary to go through the probate process, although there may be some other advantages with going through probate.  Also, if the asset has a named beneficiary (e.g. life insurance, IRA, etc.), that asset will pass automatically and not subject to any will, trust or other dispositive document.  Otherwise, other than joint assets or named beneficiaries, the estate plan of a will, trust, or the state's plan will determine where those assets go. (And it might not matter that you're the child from the first marriage or dad liked you the best.)

Payment of Bills/Claims

Depending on financial situation of the decedent, there may be certain bills and expenses that need to be paid.  Through certain publication processes in the probate process, all potential claims can be "pulled out of the woodwork" in order to determine how much should be paid and whether it is a valid debt or not.   Also, if the decedent was receiving certain public assistance benefits (e.g. Medicaid) during life, of if the decedent's predeceased spouse received such benefits, there may be a lien against any remaining assets that follows those assets.


In Iowa, if the only beneficiaries are a surviving spouse, children, grandchildren, parents or other lineal descendant or ascendant, there is no Iowa Inheritance tax and no need to file an  Iowa inheritance tax return.  There are some issues if there have been certain gifts within the past three years which should also be examined.

Federal estate taxes are normally not applicable for estates less than $2,000,000 (for 2008).  If the estate is below that figure, typically it is not necessary to file a federal estate tax return.  Again, gifts during life of the decedent are important to review also.


This list is not meant to be exhaustive, but mainly as a guide of some items to consider when it becomes necessary, and hopefully help you choose to do some proper planning ahead of time.  You should consult with an experienced attorney when it becomes necessary to sort through all of these items.
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Julie - March 5, 2011 11:06 AM

Is it always necessary to file a probate when a person dies without a will? Specifically if the estate is very small 15,000 or less no real property and the bills such as the 10,000 burial are still outstanding, do you have to incurre the expenses of a probate proceeding? There is no spouse but two children then extended family for heirs. The mother of the minor child demands half of everything from the adult child prior to the funeral being paid.

Matthew Gardner - March 6, 2011 9:09 PM


It isn't always necessary to go through probate, and your situation appears to be one of those where it would not be necessary. There is an affidavit that can be used to transfer that minimal property to the legal heirs. I can't tell you who the legal heirs are without more details (and a formal engagement).

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