Most people don’t know much about how wills work unless they’ve had a chance to speak to an estate planning attorney about the topic. But even then, there are many questions that may go unasked. For example, if you are already working with an estate planning attorney, then you probably would have no need to ask about the legality of handwritten wills in Iowa.

But it makes for an interesting question. Many mystery novels and tv episodes include a twist whereupon a murdered victim is revealed to have had a secret, handwritten will that the murders didn’t know about. The whole crime at the core of the mystery falls apart with this reveal, but would that work in real life? The answer is that it depends.

To figure out when a handwritten will is recognized in Iowa, we need to first look at whether or not you can write your own will at all. This will show us what is and isn’t acceptable, as well as point us toward the larger question of what is needed for a will to be enforceable. Finally, we will look at what potential challenges you could face when writing your own will.

Can I Write My Own Will in Iowa?

Everyone is entitled to create their own will. While many people work with an attorney in order to draft a will (especially when they think it may be contested), the vast majority of people throughout the years have written their own wills. There are many reasons why somebody would want a will, including:

  • As a way of leaving property behind to loved ones or organizations that you care about
  • Name a guardian who will care for your minor children after you’ve passed
  • As a way of ensuring that somebody you trust is left to manage any property left behind
  • Name an executor that can be trusted to ensure that your wishes are followed
  • To set forth what you want to be done with your belongings, how you want to be laid to rest, or any other requests relating to your passing

Failing to leave behind a will results in your property being distributed in accordance with intestacy laws. In Iowa, this means that your property would be divided among your closest relatives.

There are some important requirements necessary for your will to be enforceable. While we’ll be looking at those in-depth in a moment, it’s worth noting that handwritten wills are not accepted in Iowa. When you write your own will and sign it yourself, it’s called a holographic will. Iowa does not recognize a will of this nature.

What is Needed for a Will to be Enforceable?

Perhaps the biggest misconception about wills is the mistaken belief that you have to work with a lawyer for them to be valid. This is absolutely not the case. However, a lawyer may make the experience easier overall.

One of the ways that an attorney can make the experience easier is to make sure that any clauses in the will are legal. Just because something is put into a will does not mean that that something is legally enforceable. For example, you cannot use your will to have somebody commit a crime.

But, while lawyers can make the experience easier, they aren’t necessary. What is necessary is that you are at least 18 years of age or have been married. This is called being “full age.” You also have to be of sound mind, which just means that you aren’t suffering the effects of mental illness, intoxication, or a threat of violence.

What’s incredibly important, especially if you are making your own will, is witnesses. To finalize a will, you need to sign it in front of two witnesses, and those two witnesses need to then sign the will as well. The document must be declared as your will, also. Your witnesses must be at least sixteen years of age.

Witnesses for a will can be individuals who would inherit under the will, but this is not recommended. Iowa probate code §633.281 does allow somebody that would inherit through the will to sign, but it makes it so that the individual would only be able to inherit the amount they would have under intestate succession laws. This can mean that the individual witnessing the signing of the will could stand to lose a sizable portion of their inheritance, so it is recommended that witnesses be unrelated to any inheritance set out in the will.

What Potential Challenges Could a Homemade Will Face?

Putting together a will probably doesn’t seem that challenging. For many, the hardest part will be getting a couple of friends together to act as witnesses. But while putting together a will is fairly easy, it also poses a few challenges that aren’t immediately apparent.

Perhaps the biggest challenge when putting together your will is keeping in mind alternatives. For example, you have a newborn child, and so you want to be sure that you name a guardian. But how can you be sure that the guardian you name will still be up for the task when the time comes? Are they in good health? Are they younger than you, so they are less likely to pass away first? Or what if you name a married couple to act as the guardians of your child, and they go and get divorced?

Questions like these don’t immediately spring to mind when putting together a will, but they are important to remember. After all, the point of your will is to make things easier and facilitate a quicker return to normal for your loved ones following your death. But a failure to consider things like this can slow the whole process down and confront your loved ones with unexpected challenges to face while still grieving your loss.

Can an Attorney Help?

One reason that people work with an attorney is to speed up the process and avoid doing all the paperwork themselves. But another reason to hire an experienced attorney to help you draft a will is that it is their job to consider what challenges might arise. They can keep an eye out for anything in your will that might pose a problem and offer advice or solutions about how to best manage things to ensure there’s a plan B for any issues you may face.