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


Where there is no special declaration of the statute to the contrary, the homestead of every family, whether owned by the husband or wife is exempt from judicial sale, [Se.] A homestead right may exist in property purchased under a bond for a deed, if payments have been made and the purchaser is in possession. Actual occupancy is necessary to invest property with the homestead character, but as the exemption right is for the benefit of the whole family and not alone of the owner, the fact that the head of the family is absent, and may even have acquired property and residence in another state with the intention of removing his family there, will not divest the homestead of its exemption right, so long as the family continues to occupy it. And the fact that the husband has abandoned the homestead will not affect the homestead right, so long as the wife and family remain in occupancy.

The homestead right may belong to one of several tenants in common of undivided property, or in a leasehold interest. It may attach to portions of a building as where rooms or floors in a building are used for homestead purposes and the rest of the building is not so used. Where part of a building is owned or occupied by a family as a home, and the other part is used for a different purpose, that part used as a home may be exempt, while the other portion may be sold under execution. The exemption right may be lost by the execution of a mortgage or contract expressly making the homestead liable, in which both husband and wife join; or it may be forfeited when the homestead is used as a saloon or for any other purpose in violation of the prohibitory liquor law, with the knowledge and consent of the owner, and this is true even though such unlawful use is without the consent of the wife of the owner. In such case it is subject to judgment obtained because of such illegal use. [Se.] If the homestead is sold, the proceeds are exempt only when invested in the purchase of another homestead, but the exemption does not follow the proceeds out of the state, and where the homestead was sold and the proceeds invested in a homestead in another state, and this was afterwards sold and the proceeds again invested in a homestead in this state, it was held that the homestead exemption did not attach to the second homestead in Iowa. Removal from the homestead without intention of returning will be sufficient to forfeit the homestead right, but the length of time of absence, in itself, will not constitute abandonment, so long as the intention to return exists.

A widow or widower, though without children, shall be deemed a family while continuing to occupy the house used as such at the time of the death of the husband or wife. [Se.]

A conveyance or incumbrance by the owner is of no validity unless the husband and wife, if the owner is married, concur in, and sign the joint instrument. [Se.] Any conveyance or contract, such as a mortgage, lease, assignment of contract of purchase, or any act in any manner affecting the title or right of occupancy of the homestead by either party, will be absolutely void, unless concurred in by the other. If the consent of the wife is fraudulently obtained by the husband, the conveyance or incumbrance will be valid, unless it appears that the purchaser or mortgagee had knowledge of the fraud. A mortgage given for the purchase money will be valid though given alone by the party taking the legal title.

The homestead is liable for taxes accruing thereon, and if platted as hereinafter directed, is liable only for such taxes and subject to mechanics’ liens for work, labor, or material, done or furnished exclusively for the improvement of the same, and the whole or a sufficient portion thereof may be sold to pay the same. [Se.] All the taxes against the owner of the homestead become liens thereon, unless it is platted as directed by statute.

The homestead may be sold on execution for debts contracted prior to the purchase thereof, but it shall not in such case be sold except to supply the deficiency remaining after exhausting the other property of the debtor liable to execution. [Se.] Debts contracted after the acquisition of the property, but before it has acquired the homestead character by actual occupancy, may be enforced against the property. A judgment upon a debt contracted prior to the purchase of the homestead, although such judgment is not rendered until after the property has acquired the homestead character, is a lien upon the homestead.

The homestead may be sold for debts created by written contract, executed by the persons having the power to convey and expressly stipulating that the homestead is liable therefor, but it shall not in such case be sold except to supply the deficiency remaining after exhausting the other property pledged for the payment of the debt in the same written contract. [Se.] Any written contract other than a mortgage or other conveyance, will be sufficient to render the homestead liable for debts, provided it contains the necessary stipulations, and is signed by the proper parties.

The homestead must embrace the house used as a home by the owner thereof, and if he has two or more houses thus used by him at different times and places, he may select which he will retain as his homestead. [Se.] The husband may select his homestead and make the same his home without the consent of his wife, and the absence of the wife will not affect its homestead character. The fact that the husband is the legal head of the family invests him with the power of establishing his home wherever he may choose, with or without the assent of his wife. Use is essential to give property a homestead character, and an intention to occupy is not sufficient in the absence of actual residence.

It may contain one or more lots or tracts of land with the buildings thereon and other appurtenances, subject to the limitations contained in the next section, but must in no case embrace different lots or tracts, unless they are contiguous, or unless they are habitually and in good faith used as a part of the same homestead. [Se.]

If within a town plat it must not exceed one-half an acre in extent, and if not within a town plat, it must not embrace in the aggregate more than forty acres. But if, when thus limited, in either case, its value is less than five hundred dollars, it may be enlarged until it reaches that amount. [Se.]

It must not embrace more than one dwelling house, or any other buildings except as such are properly appurtenant to the homestead; but a shop or other building situated thereon, and really used and occupied by the owner in the prosecution of his own ordinary business, and not exceeding three hundred dollars in value, may be deemed appurtenant to such homestead. [Se.]

The owner or the husband or wife, may select the homestead and cause it to be marked out, platted, and recorded as provided in the next section. A failure in this respect does not leave the homestead liable, but the officer having an execution against the property of such defendant, may cause the homestead to be marked off, platted and recorded and may add the expense thence arising to the amount embraced in the execution. [Se.]

The homestead shall be marked off by fixed and visible monuments, and in giving the description thereof, the direction and distance of the starting point from some corner of the dwelling-house shall be stated. The description and plat shall then be recorded by the recorder in a book to be called the “homestead book,” which shall be provided with a proper index. [Se.]

The owner may from time to time change the limits of the homestead by changing the metes and bounds, as well as the record of the plat and description, or may change it entirely, but such changes shall not prejudice conveyances or liens made or created previously thereto, and no change of the entire homestead made without the concurrence of the husband or wife, shall affect his or her right or those of the children. [Se.]

The new homestead, to the extent in value of the old, is exempt from execution in all cases where the old or former homestead would have been exempt, but in no other, nor in any greater degree. [Se.]

Upon the death of either husband or wife, the survivor may continue to possess and occupy the whole homestead until it is disposed of according to law. [Se.] The survivor may elect to retain the homestead in lieu of his or her distributive stare of the estate, but in such case the interest is not one which confers any title to the property which can be conveyed or which will descend to heirs or be subject to the lieu of a judgment, but it is merely a life interest which may be terminated whenever the survivor ceases to use and occupy the homestead as such. Whenever the survivor elects to retain the homestead during life in lieu of dower, it cannot be changed for another homestead, and the right will be lost by abandonment.

The setting off of the distributive share of the husband or wife in the real estate of the deceased, shall be such a disposal of the homestead as is contemplated in the preceding section. But the survivor may elect to retain the homestead for life in lieu of such share in the real estate of the deceased; but if there be no such survivor, the homestead descends to the issue of either husband or wife according to the rules of descent, unless otherwise directed by will, and is to be held by such issue exempt from any antecedent debts of their parents or their own. [Se.]

If there is no such survivor or issue the homestead is liable to be sold for the payment of any debts to which it might at that time be subjected, if it had never been held as a homestead. [Se.]

Subject to the rights of the surviving husband or wife, as declared by law, the homestead may be devised like other real estate of the testator. [Se.] The homestead will remain exempt in the hands of the heirs because of the homestead right of the ancestors, although the property is not occupied as a homestead by such heirs.

If a debtor is a resident of this state, and is the head of a family, he may hold exempt from execution the following property: All wearing apparel of himself and family kept for actual use and suitable to their condition, and the trunks or other receptacles necessary to contain the same; one musket or rifle and shot-gun; all private libraries, family bibles, portraits, pictures, musical instruments, and paintings, not kept for the purpose of sale; a seat or pew occupied by the debtor or his family in any house of public worship; an interest in a public or private burying ground, not exceeding one acre for any defendant; two cows and calf; one horse, unless a horse is exempt as hereinafter provided; fifty sheep and the wool therefrom and the materials manufactured from such wool; six stands of bees; five hogs, and all pigs under six months; the necessary food for all animals exempt from execution, for six months; all flax raised by the defendant on not exceeding one acre of ground and the manufactures therefrom; one bedstead and the necessary bedding for every two in the family; all cloth manufactured by the defendant, not exceeding one hundred yards in quantity; household and kitchen furniture, not exceeding two hundred dollars in value; all spinning-wheels and looms, one sewing machine and other instruments of domestic labor kept for actual use; the necessary provisions and fuel for the use of the family for six months; the proper tools, instruments or books of the debtor, if a farmer, mechanic, surveyor, clergyman, lawyer, physician, teacher or professor; the horse or the team consisting of not more than two horses or mules, or two yoke of cattle, and the wagon or other vehicle with the proper harness or tackle, by the use of which the debtor, if a physician, public officer, farmer, teamster, or other laborer habitually earns his living; and to the debtor, if a printer, there shall also be exempt a printing press and a newspaper office connected therewith, not to exceed in all the value of twelve hundred dollars. Any person entitled to any of the exemptions mentioned in this section does not waive his rights thereto by failing to designate or select such exempt property or by failing to object to a levy thereon, unless failing or refusing so to do when required to make such designation or selection by the officers about to levy. [Se.] The husband and not the wife is recognized by law as the “head of the family,” but upon the death of the husband the wife becomes the head of the family and as such is entitled to these exemptions.

All life insurance is exempt from the debts of the assured and from those of his widow contracted prior to his death, provided such exemption does not exceed the sum of five thousand dollars. [Se Sup.]

The word “family,” as used in section 4297, does not include strangers or boarders lodging with the family. [Se.]

The earnings of such debtor for his personal services, or those of his family, at any time within ninety days next preceding the levy, are also exempt from execution and attachment. [Se.]

There shall be exempt to an unmarried man not the head of a family, and to non-residents their ordinary wearing apparel and trunk necessary to contain the same. [Se.]

When the debtor, if the head of a family, has started to leave this state, he shall have exempt only the ordinary wearing apparel of himself and family, and such other property, in addition, as he may select, in all not exceeding seventy-five dollars in value; which property shall be selected by the debtor and appraised; but any person coming into this state with the intention of remaining shall be considered a resident. [Se.]

None of the exemptions prescribed in this chapter shall be allowed against an execution issued for the purchase money of property claimed to be exempt, and on which such execution is levied. [Se.]

Where a debtor absconds and leaves his family, such property shall be exempt in the hands of the wife and children, or either of them. [Se.]

If the debtor is a seamstress, one sewing-machine shall be exempt from execution and attachment. [Se.]

All money received by any person, resident of the state, as a pension from the United States government; whether the same shall be in the actual possession of such pensioner, or deposited, loaned, or invested by him, shall be exempt from execution or attachment, or seizure by or under any legal process whatever, whether such pensioner shall be the head of a family or not. [Se.]

The homestead of every such pensioner, whether the head of a family or not, purchased and paid for with any such pension money, or the proceeds or accumulations of such pension money, shall also be exempt as is now provided by law of this state in relation to homesteads; and such exemption shall also apply to debts of such pensioner contracted prior to the purchase of such homestead. [Se.]

Where a wrongful act produces death, and the deceased leaves a husband, wife, child or parent, the damages shall not be liable for the payment of debts. [Se.]