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    A will is a signed, witnessed formal written (typed) statement about how you direct your property to be given away after you die.  In Iowa your signature must be witnessed by two disinterested witnesses that you request to watch you sign your will.  You have to watch them sign their names as witnesses, too.  Picture yourself seated, having read the will word for word, agreeing that it is a correct statement of your intent, that you have not overlooked anything or anyone, and see yourself sign your full name while the two witnesses watch.

    A will has to be admitted to probate within 5 years of your death, or it is as if you died without a will.  Someone who dies without a will, is said to die “intestate.”  If you leave a will when you die, then, if the will is admitted to probate, you are said to have died “testate.”  In either case the words come from Testament.  Your will is your last testimony on the topic.

    In order to get your will admitted to probate, your lawyer will need to have the original.  He will also prepare an affidavit for one of the two witnesses to sign unless the will has been acknowledged before a Notary when you signed it.  The lawyer takes the Will to the Courthouse and files it with the Clerk.  She keeps it.  She makes a permanent record of it.  Public notice is given.  And notice is mailed to interested persons. 

    From the date of second publication of the notice in the newspaper, anyone not named in the will has 4 months to file an objection to the will.  If someone objects, there will be a hearing or trial on the objection.  If no one objects within the 4 months, they are thereafter barred from ever objecting.  People named in the will have 30 days to object from when they get a mailed notice unless the 4 months for everyone else has not run out. 

    Picture your lawyer taking your original will to the Courthouse and giving it to the Clerk of Court who puts it in her permanent files.  Picture a legal notice in the newspaper.  And consider who might file an objection and why.   (In my thirty years of practice I have never seen someone contest a will.)  The point of the process is to prove: (1) that you left a will; (2) that you signed it freely; and (3) that you knew the natural objects of your bounty when you did it.

    In my practice I always use two subscribing witnesses.  If I prepare the Will, I usually act as one of the witnesses and I have Dawn sign as the other witness. We have several pointed questions we ask to satisfy ourselves that you have not overlooked anyone; and that you have expressed your intent correctly. If you are going to leave out someone, it is my practice to name them.  I usually draft a sentence that says:  “I am not unmindful of so and so, but choose to make no provision for him in this Will.”

    I always instruct clients to keep their Will in a bank lock box.  I routinely do not keep wills I have drafted myself.  I will do it if I am asked; but I routinely give the client the original; and ask them to rent a bank lock box if they do not already have one.

    A Will also allows you to nominate someone you trust to serve as the Executor of your estate.  The Executor will work closely with the lawyer handling your estate to gather up your assets, see to it that any taxes and bills are paid, prepare an accounting and distribute your property to the beneficiaries named in your Will.

    It is my practice to advise clients to include a power of sale in the Will.  This enables the Executor to sell your real estate without the attorney for the Executor having to prepare, file and give notice of a Petition for authority to sell the real estate, if the real estate needs to be sold.

    If you have minor children, your Will will also nominate a Guardian to care for the children in the event that their other parent is also deceased or otherwise incapacitated.

    On three other pages that follow I will take up three different forms of a Will.

This page was written on 04190.

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