Read CHAPTER VIII of Legal Status Of Women In Iowa, free online book, by Jennie Lansley Wilson, on


When the deceased leaves a widow, all the personal property which, in his hands as head of the family, would be exempt from execution, after being inventoried and appraised, shall be set apart to her as her property in her own right, and be exempt in her hands as in the hands of the decedent. [Se.] This provision secures an advantage to the wife which does not exist in favor of the husband. Upon the death of the wife all personal property belonging to her, whether exempt or not, passes to her administrator to be distributed by him among her heirs. A widow is not entitled to pension money, although the same was exempt in the hands of her husband, the exemption being for the benefit of the pensioner as such, and not as head of a family.

The avails of any life insurance or any other sum of money made payable by any mutual aid or benevolent society upon the death of a member of such society, are not subject to the debts of the deceased, except by special contract or arrangement, but shall in other respects, be disposed of like other property left by the deceased. [Se.] A policy of insurance on the life of an individual, in the absence of an agreement or assignment to the contrary shall inure to the separate use of the husband or wife and children of said individual, independently of his or her creditors. And the avails of all policies of insurance on the life of an individual payable to his surviving widow, shall be exempt from liabilities for all debts of such beneficiary contracted prior to the death of the deceased, provided that in any case the total exemption for the benefit of any one person shall not exceed the sum of five thousand dollars. [Se, Sup.] The contract between the assured and the insurance company, cannot be changed in any particular without the consent of the company, and a testator cannot, by will, change the beneficiary named in the policy unless it is expressly so provided in the contract. Where a policy is made payable to the assured or his legal representatives, the proceeds of the policy will pass to the administrator of his estate, and will be paid to the wife and children, but no part can be distributed to other heirs. If the assured leaves a wife or husband and no children, the entire proceeds of the policy will go to the wife or husband, and after they have passed into the hands of the beneficiary, they will not be subject to execution for the payment of his or her debts, provided they do not exceed the sum of five thousand dollars.

A wife is not her husband’s “legal heir” and the entire proceeds of a policy or certificate of insurance made payable to the assured or his “legal heirs” will go to the children of the deceased.

The court shall if necessary, set off to the widow and children under fifteen years of age, of the decedent, or to either, sufficient of the property of such kind as it shall deem appropriate to support them for twelve months from the time of his death. [Se.] The allowance to the widow takes priority over all other claims against the estate, and should be paid immediately. If the widow and children have no other means of support the allowance may be made though the estate is insolvent. It is no part of the dower interest, but is a separate and distinct right which may be made in addition to dower, or even in cases where by contract made before marriage, all rights to dower and inheritance have been relinquished. Real estate may be sold if necessary, where the personal property is not sufficient to provide for the allowance to the widow and children, and the widow may claim the allowance although there are no children, and she may have property of her own, if the income of such property is not sufficient for her support.

As soon as the executors are possessed of sufficient means, over and above the expenses of administration, they shall pay off the charges of the last sickness and funeral of deceased. [Se.]

They shall, in the next place, pay any allowance which may be made by the court for the maintenance of the widow and minor children. [Se.]

After the funeral expenses and the allowance to the widow and children have been paid, the claims against the estate will be discharged in the order provided by law, after which, the balance of the property, devised by will after all expenses of administration have been paid, will be distributed to the different legatees.

The personal property of the deceased, not necessary for the payment of debts, nor otherwise disposed of as hereinbefore provided, shall be distributed to the same persons and in the same proportions as though it were real estate. [Se.] A husband cannot, by will, deprive his wife of her share in his personal estate, after his death, but he may dispose of it during his lifetime in any manner he may choose.

The distributive shares shall be paid over as fast as the executors can properly do so. [Se.]

The property itself shall be distributed in kind whenever that can be done satisfactorily and equitably. In other cases the court may direct the property to be sold, and the proceeds to be distributed. [Se.]

When the circumstances of the family require it, the court, in addition to what is hereinbefore set apart for their use, may direct a partial distribution of the money or effects on hand. [Se.]

One-third in value of all the legal or equitable estates in real property, possessed by the husband at any time during the marriage, which have not been sold on execution or other judicial sale, and to which the wife has made no relinquishment of her right, shall be set apart as her property in fee-simple, if she survive him. The same share of the real estate of a deceased wife shall be set apart to the surviving husband. All provisions made in this chapter in regard to the widow of a deceased husband, shall be applicable to the surviving husband of a deceased wife. The estates of dower and curtesy are hereby abolished. [Se] While the estate of dower is abolished by statute, and a wife takes her distributive share of the property in its stead, yet this distributive share is still commonly designated by the term “dower.” The dower interest of the wife is not subject to the debts of her husband. A wife may release her right of dower in real property by joining in a joint deed with her husband, although the deed may contain no express relinquishment of dower. Contracts between husband and wife, though for a legal and valuable consideration, or with a view to separation are invalid, the interest of either during the lifetime of both, being merely contingent and inchoate, but an agreement previous to marriage by which each waives all right in the other’s estate, or by which the wife relinquishes her right of dower, is valid. A woman can claim no dower in her husband’s estate, after his death, if she has procured a divorce from him while living and the divorce is in force at the time of his death. Where the provisions of a will gives the wife a certain interest in the estate, she may always elect whether she will take her dower interest or under the will.

The distributive share of the widow shall be so set off as to include the ordinary dwelling-house given by law to the homestead, or so much thereof as will be equal to the share allotted to her by the last section, unless she prefers a different arrangement. But no different arrangement shall be permitted where it would have the effect of prejudicing the rights of creditors. [Se.] If the distributive share of either husband or wife is set out to the survivor from the homestead, it will still retain its homestead character, and will be exempt from execution for the payment of debts.

The widow of a non-resident alien shall be entitled to the same rights in the property of her husband, as a resident, except as against a purchaser from the decedent. [Se.] The term “non-resident alien” does not refer to one who resides out of the United States, but to non-residents of the state, who may reside in other states; the purpose of the statute being to encourage the purchase of lands within the state from non-resident owners, and to protect purchasers of such real estate from claims for dower or distributive share therein.

The share thus allotted to her may be set off by the mutual consent of all parties interested, when such consent can be obtained, or it may be set off by referees appointed by the court. [Se.]

The application for such measurement by referees, may be made any time after twenty days and within ten years after the death of the husband, and must specify the particular tracts of land in which she claims her share, and ask the appointment of referees. [Se.]

The widow’s share cannot be affected by any will of her husband, unless she consents thereto within six months after notice to her of the provisions of the will by the other parties interested in the estate, which consent shall be entered on the proper records of the district court. [Se.] This provision applies equally to the husband’s rights under the will of the wife, and it applies to wills made before marriage, as well as to those executed after marriage. Where there is no express provision in the will that a devise to the wife is in lieu of dower, she will take her distributive share of the estate in addition to the property devised to her by will, unless the allowance of dower would be inconsistent with other provisions of the will. The devise of a life estate to a wife will not defeat her right to her distributive share in the real estate owned by the husband at the time of his death.

Subject to the rights and charges hereinbefore contemplated, the remaining estate of which the decedent died, shall, in the absence of other arrangements by will, descend in equal shares to his children. [Se.]

If any one of his children be dead, the heirs of such child shall inherit his share in accordance with the rules herein prescribed in the same manner as though such child had outlived his parents. [Se.] The mother of a child which dies while both of its parents are living cannot, upon the death of its father, claim any share in his estate, as heir of such child.

If the intestate leave no issue, the one-half of his estate shall go to his parents and the other half to his wife; if he leaves no wife, the portion which would have gone to her, shall go to his parents, [Se.] The one-third which the wife takes as her distributive share is all that may be held exempt from debts. The additional share of the estate which she takes in case there are no children, is subject to claims by creditors of the husband.

If one of his parents be dead, the portion which would have gone to such deceased parent, shall go to the surviving parent, including the portion which would have gone to the intestate’s wife had she been living. [Se.]

If both parents be dead, then the portion which would have fallen to their share, by the above rules shall be disposed of in the same manner as if they had outlived the intestate and died in the possession and ownership of the portion thus falling to their share, and so on through ascending ancestors and their issue. [Se.]

If heirs are not thus found, the portion uninherited shall go to the wife of the intestate, or to her heirs if dead, according to like rules; and if he has had more than one wife who either died or survived in lawful wedlock, it shall be equally divided between the one who is living and the heirs of those who are dead, or between the heirs of all, if all are dead, such heirs taking by right of representation. [Se.]

Property given by an intestate by way of advancement to an heir, shall be considered part of the estate so far as regards the division and distribution thereof, and shall be taken by such heir, towards his share of the estate at what it would now be worth if in the condition in which it was given to him. But if such advancement exceeds the amount to which he would be entitled, he cannot be required to refund any portion thereof. [Se.] A gift to an heir by way of advancement, cannot be considered as any part of the estate for the purpose of increasing the distributive share of the widow, but is to be estimated as part of such heir’s share of the property, after the allowance to the wife of her interest.

If there be property remaining uninherited, it shall escheat to the state. [Se.]

Illegitimate children inherit from the mother and the mother from the children. [Se.] A child born at any time during lawful wedlock is presumed by the law to be legitimate, but where questions of inheritance are involved, this presumption may be overcome by proof to the contrary.

They shall inherit from the father whenever the paternity is proven during the life of the father, or they have been recognized by him as his children, but such recognition must have been general and notorious or else in writing. [Se.] The recognition in writing need not be a formal avowal. Any writing, as by letter or otherwise, is sufficient. For the purposes of inheritance an illegitimate child stands on exactly the same footing as if it were legitimate after it has been recognized by the father, and the birth and recognition of such child revoke a will in the same manner as the birth of a legitimate child, subsequent to the execution of the will.

Under such circumstances, if the recognition of relationship has been mutual, the father may inherit from his illegitimate children. [Se.]