Joint Ownership Vs. Wills in Iowa

by Maggie Lourdes
Iowa law honors wills and joint tenancies.

Iowa law honors wills and joint tenancies.

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An Iowa resident may write a will to direct distribution of her assets after death. Wills, however, must be administered through probate court. Many people choose to avoid probate by using estate planning tools called will substitutes. Joint tenancy is a form of will substitute. Joint tenancies and wills have different benefits and risks. An Iowa resident with specific questions about wills or joint tenancies should seek a legal expert's advice in Iowa estate planning law.

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Iowa Wills

Iowa probate law requires that wills be administered through the probate court in the county in which the decedent resided. The executor named in a will is granted the legal authority by a probate judge to collect all estate assets. He then must pay the estate's debts and distribute the net assets to the decedent's beneficiaries according to her will. An executor must provide an inventory and accounting to the court listing the estate's property and debts and showing how net assets are distributed.

Iowa Joint Tenancies

A joint tenancy means two or more people share ownership of property during their lifetimes. When a joint owner dies, the surviving joint owner generally takes the decedent's property interests. No probate court involvement is required for joint tenancies. A death certificate must be provided to all relevant financial institutions to remove a decedent joint owner's name from accounts. A death certificate also must be recorded in the register of deeds in the county where jointly owned real estate is located.


An advantage of a will is that it it may be changed without anyone's consent. A person generally can alter beneficiaries or property distributions, or completely revoke a will. Wills generally are inexpensive. Many people draft their own wills or seek help from an online document preparation service. A benefit of joint tenancies is the avoidance of the costs, delays and work involved with probate. They are also inexpensive. Adding a joint tenant to a bank account is free. Drafting and adding a joint tenant to real estate can generally be done for around $100.


A disadvantage of wills is that they must be probated, which can be costly and create delays for beneficiaries receiving inheritances. Wills also can be lost. It is important to keep them in a safe place, such as a fire-proof box that beneficiaries can easily access after the will maker dies. Wills can also be contested and potentially set aside. Joint tenancies can be risky because all joint tenants have an ownership interest in assets during their lifetimes. If joint tenants quarrel, problems can arise. All joint owners may be required to agree to sever a joint tenancy.