You can't take it with you. You've probably heard that old saying, and you may have very definite ideas about what should happen to your belongings when you are no longer here. Whether you have already verbally distributed your assets or have designated them more formally through a written will, your estate will likely go through the probate process before any of your heirs can take possession of your gifts to them.
So, what is probate? If you've heard the word before, it may have been in an unfavorable light. Perhaps people have even told you to avoid probate if you can. However, probate plays an important role in the distribution of your assets, and while there are ways to avoid it, in most cases, the typical estate spends about nine months to a year going through the probate process.
Probate answers questions
If you have written a will, after your death, someone will read the contents of that will. At that point, there are a number of questions that the probate court will attempt to answer, including:
- Is the will valid?
- What property do you own?
- What is the value of your property?
- Who and where are the people to whom you have left your assets?
- Did you owe any debts or taxes at the time of your death?
While the answers to these questions may seem obvious to you, after you are gone, you will not be able to explain or clarify any of your wishes. Probate attempts to do this to ensure that your estate comes to a legal and complete closure within the law and according to your expressed plans for your estate.
Probate deals with problems
There is a chance that, although you may have clearly stated your wishes, your heirs — or those who think they should be your heirs — will claim that you made a mistake. They may try to have the court declare that your will was not valid. They may argue that you did not intend to omit them from the will or that you intended to leave them a larger share. Probate court protects you from such claims by requiring anyone contesting the will to prove one of three things:
- You had no understanding that you were signing a will on the day you executed it.
- Someone exacted pressure or influence over you when you signed the will.
- Some impropriety exists concerning the will, such as a lack of witnesses or an invalid signature.
Of course, if you left no will, the probate court will make sure that your executor distributes your assets according to the laws of Iowa. Typically, this means your closest living relatives, starting with your children, parents, and then siblings. If this arrangement is not satisfactory to you, making a will and ensuring it is validly executed will certainly be a top priority for you. With legal assistance, you can decide the best options for preparing your estate to make probate as painless as possible for your loved ones.