Probate in Iowa – the legal process that transfers your assets to your loved ones after your death – is confusing, lengthy, and expensive, but a Cedar Rapids probate attorney can set up an estate plan that avoids the probate process and quickly transfers your assets to your loved ones.

Exactly what happens in the probate process? What steps can you take to avoid probate? When should you reach out to an Iowa probate lawyer? Keep reading to learn these answers and to learn more about probate and estate planning in Iowa.

What Happens During Probate?

An inventory and evaluation of your estate’s assets are conducted during probate. Your estate’s outstanding debts and taxes will be paid, and what remains will be transferred to your heirs by following the instructions you have left in your will.

If you die without a will or a spouse in Iowa, your children inherit the entire estate. If you have no spouse or children, your estate goes to your parents. If no parents are alive, it goes to your siblings or to their children, and if there are none, to your grandparents or their descendants.

However, if you have a last will and testament, that document determines who will receive your assets and properties. In Iowa, if your estate’s value does not exceed $25,000 and does not include real estate holdings, probate may not be required, but your creditors must still be paid.

Some assets are not “probatable.” Life insurance policies, bank accounts, and retirement plans will go directly to the beneficiaries you have named – without being subject to probate.

Should Probate Be Avoided?

You should avoid probate for three reasons. First, probate is a lengthy procedure that can tie up your estate for months or even longer. Secondly, you want to avoid probate because it’s expensive. The cost of probating an estate can significantly reduce that estate’s value.

If you own assets or properties in another state, there may be even more complications. For instance, if you live in Cedar Rapids but you own a condo in West Palm Beach, the condo will be subject to probate in a Florida probate court.

A third important reason for avoiding probate is the absence of privacy. Probate is a judicial proceeding, so everything that happens in probate goes on the public record. Anyone can find out what your beneficiaries are inheriting. If privacy is a priority, probate should be avoided.

How Can Probate Be Avoided?

Unless you establish a trust, probate will probably be unavoidable after your death, but setting up a revocable living trust is one way to avoid probate. An estate planning lawyer or Cedar Rapids probate attorney can prepare a revocable living trust that’s right for you and your loved ones.

Legally speaking, the assets and properties that you move to your revocable living trust no longer belong to your estate. When the time comes, your trustee can transfer the assets and properties to your loved ones quickly and with no probate interference.

A revocable living trust is in many ways similar to a will. Both documents name the person or persons who will inherit your properties and assets, but revocable living trusts do more.

How Does a Revocable Living Trust Work?

Your revocable living trust should include directions for your trustee about managing your financial affairs if you should become incapacitated.

Like a will, a revocable living trust transfers your assets to your heirs after your death, but if you set up a revocable living trust, you can avoid probate. You may modify, cancel, or revoke a revocable living trust at any point and for any reason.

If your revocable living trust has not been recently updated, or if it was prepared in a different state, you should speak to an Iowa trust attorney about updating it. That attorney can review your trust or prepare a revocable living trust that’s right for you and your family.

Donating or giving away your properties and assets while you are still alive also helps if your estate is subject to probate. Probate costs less when you own less, and larger estates will incur higher probate expenses.

If You Cannot Avoid Probate

An Iowa probate attorney may be retained by the executor of a deceased person’s will to oversee the process. If you are the executor of a will in this state, ensure that probate is done right by choosing a probate attorney wisely. A probate dispute may be a dispute over:

  1.  a will’s validity
  2. the meaning and language of the will
  3. the proper administration of the will
  4. the claims of creditors
  5. the rights of a surviving spouse
  6. which assets are included in the estate

If you are involved – or anticipate being involved – in a probate dispute in Iowa, choose an attorney who routinely and effectively handles wills, estate planning, and probate matters. Choosing the right Iowa probate lawyer is a vitally important decision.

Do You Need Comprehensive Estate Planning?

The right Cedar Rapids estate planning attorney can help families and single persons avoid probate, reduce their taxes, guard their assets and properties, and remain prosperous in the future. If you have worked hard, saved wisely, and do not have a comprehensive estate plan, you should.

Every estate plan is different. Your own plan’s details will hinge on your family and financial situation. But whatever that situation is, if others are counting on you, now is the time to meet with an Iowa estate planning lawyer who can provide practical advice for planning your estate.

Depending on your circumstances and needs, your estate plan may be based on your last will and testament or your revocable living trust. Another element of estate planning is the preparation of advance directives – financial and health care powers-of-attorney – for unexpected situations.

How Can You Learn More?

No one can know what tomorrow may bring, but with the right estate plan, you will be prepared. Every Iowa family needs an estate plan to guard their assets, to reduce their taxes, to avoid or reduce the impact of probate, and to provide instructions for handling unanticipated situations.

To learn more about effective estate planning or about the probate process in Iowa, or to ensure that probate is conducted properly, promptly arrange to speak with a Cedar Rapids probate lawyer.