When someone passes away, their estate—including all of the decedent’s assets, debts, and liabilities—is distributed among the decedent's heirs and/or beneficiaries. The formal process of distributing the estate is known as probate. While not all estate must pass through the Iowa probate process, many do. Furthermore, the existence of a will is not sufficient to prevent an estate from going through probate.
Many people are intimidated by the probate process. In fact, probate can be confusing even in the most straightforward of situations and downright daunting under more complex circumstances. But an experienced probate attorney in Iowa City or Waterloo can help guide you through the process, providing legal services tailored to your unique concerns and goals.
Since 1958, Ball, Kirk & Holm, P.C. has been representing Iowans in a wide range of estate planning and probate matters. This experience gives us the knowledge and skill needed to help you probate a will—even helping resolve disputes related to contested wills and other related matters.
Contact our probate lawyers in Waterloo today at (319) 220-0416 for a complimentary consultation. We also proudly serve Iowa City and the rest of the state!
What Is Probate?
Probate is the formal process of distributing an estate following the death of the person who owned it. Unlike in some other states, in Iowa, a will does not prevent an estate from going through probate. Instead, other factors are involved in determining whether an estate must pass through the probate process.
In Iowa, probate is necessary under the following circumstances:
- When a piece of real estate property is titled solely in the decedent’s name
- If the decedent had retirement or investment accounts that did not name a beneficiary
- When there are individual stocks in excess of $50,000 without a transfer on death certificate
- When there are savings bonds in excess of $50,000 without a payable on death certificate
- If the decedent had a life insurance policy with no named beneficiary
- If the decedent had a bank account solely in his/her name with funds exceeding $50,000 and no payable on death certificate
Essentially, any time there are assets that do not automatically transfer by contract or by law to an heir or beneficiary (such as a life insurance policy with named beneficiaries or a joint-tenancy home), the estate must go through probate. This is the case even when there is a will.
What Are the Responsibilities of a Probate Attorney?
At Ball, Kirk & Holm, P.C., we do everything necessary to probate the will, offering you as much—or as little— help as you need to successfully go through the probate process. There are many steps involved in this process, all of which our Waterloo probate lawyers can assist you with.
Some of these steps include:
- Contacting the beneficiaries of an estate
- Managing the assets and debts
- Filing individual and estate taxes
- Distributing property to the beneficiaries
- Managing issues related to the care of minor children
This is not an exhaustive list. If you have additional concerns regarding probate or the steps involved in distributing an estate, please contact our team to learn how we can help.
Can You Handle Probate Without a Lawyer?
Distributing an estate may sound like a fairly simple task, which may lead you to ask: "Do I really need a probate lawyer?" While you may be able to handle standard probate on your own, there are certain cases where you may want to consider consulting a probate lawyer in Iowa City or Waterloo:
- You're dealing with an exceptionally large estate with various assets
- You don't understand Iowa's laws regarding probate and any necessary court proceedings
- The estate contains a business or other complex asset
- There is fighting amongst the beneficiaries regarding the division of assets
- The estate holder had outstanding debts at the time of their death, including state or federal taxes
What is the Difference Between a Probate Lawyer and an Estate Lawyer?
There are several distinct differences between a probate lawyer and an estate planning lawyer:
- Probate generally refers to the administration of a will following an individual's death; therefore a probate lawyer typically works to ensure that a will is adhered to
- Estate planning refers to the process of drafting a will and putting together an administration plan with the living individual prior to their death
Concerned that you may not be equipped to handle probate? Contact Ball, Kirk & Holm to discuss your case in a free consultation!
When a Will Is Contested
Just because a person has a will does not always mean that everything will run smoothly. Sometimes probate disputes lead to contested wills when a beneficiary or someone who believes they should have been a beneficiary challenges the will.
There are several reasons that Iowa courts may find a will—or part of a will—invalid. Sometimes the person who created the will was believed not to have the ability (referred to as the “testamentary capacity”) to understand their property and their family in a way that was clear enough to make a will. Other times, the person who created the will may have been unduly influenced by a person in their life, like a caretaker or manipulative relative, into leaving all the assets of the estate to them.
Whether you wish to contest a will or are dealing with a dispute from another individual, our probate attorneys in Waterloo can help you understand your rights and work to protect your best interests, as well as the intentions of your loved one.
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No matter the situation you face, Ball, Kirk & Holm, P.C. can offer the clear guidance you need throughout the probate process. We also help resolve issues related to contested wills and other similar disputes. With decades of legal experience and a commitment to providing personalized, client-focused services, we are well-equipped to help you navigate this challenging time in your life.