Why you need to have a will

At the Iowa firm of Janssen Law, PLC, we know how important it is for everyone to have an estate plan, not just if you are elderly or extremely wealthy. One of the most important parts of your estate plan is your will, a written document setting forth how you want your personal assets to be distributed after you die and who you want to distribute them. Your will also can designate who you want to be the guardian(s) of your minor children after your death.

The Iowa State Bar Association explains that for your will to be valid, it must meet the following four criteria:

  1. It must be in writing.
  2. You must sign it in the presence of two witnesses.
  3. You must declare in the presence of these two witnesses that this is your will.
  4. The two witnesses must then sign your will in your presence.

Property you can give to others in your will

You can leave your personal property such as jewelry, antiques, art works, tools, equipment, etc. to whomever you wish and/or to whichever organizations or charities you wish. You can do the same with your bank accounts, investment accounts, vehicles and any real property you own, assuming you do not hold these assets in joint tenancy with someone else.

Property not part of your will

In addition to personal or real property held in joint tenancy, your will also cannot dispose of your insurance policy proceeds, your retirement benefits or your trust accounts. These assets will go directly to the named beneficiaries and will not pass through your estate.

Tax considerations

While few estates are large enough to require payment of federal or state “death taxes,” your estate may face negative income tax consequences after your death depending on what assets you own at that time. One of the most important purposes of your will is to mitigate such taxes. For more information on wills and probate, please visit our page on this subject.