Official State of Iowa Website

Disposition of Remains

What is it?

Iowa law allows a person to name a person who can make decisions about the final disposition of a person’s body in a legal document called a “declaration.” See Iowa Code chapter 144C. Final disposition means burial, internment, cremation, or other type of disposition as well as where the remains will be placed. The person named must be an adult who is competent as determined by the law and a person can name others to serve if the first person named is not able. The declaration only allows a person to name the person who can make these decision for them, it does not allow a person to require a certain disposition of the body or a certain type of ceremony. The law does not prohibit a person from sharing their wishes, but the law does not require the person given the power to make the decisions to follow those wishes. Because of this, it is important that a person make their wishes known and choose a person they can trust to follow their wishes.

How do I make a declaration? Can I change my mind?

There is certain language that must be used in making a declaration and the law includes a form that can be used. It is always good to speak with an attorney when creating any legal document, though. There are also certain people and organizations who cannot be named to make these decisions, including attorneys, funeral directors, owners and staff of funeral homes or cremation establishments, long term care facilities and programs, and others, unless the person is related. The declaration should be part of or attached to a durable health care power of attorney, if there is one. If there is not a durable health care power of attorney, the declaration must be in writing and witnessed by two people who are not named in the declaration or acknowledged by a notary. A person can revoke or change the declaration at any time. If there is a separation, divorce or annulment of a marriage, the law automatically removes the spouse as the decision maker if they are named in the declaration. 

What happens if I do not have a declaration?

If a person does not make a declaration, the law states who can make the decisions about the disposition of a person’s body. First on the list is a spouse, if there is one and they can be found. If there is no spouse, then a child or the majority of a person’s children make the decision. If no children, the law looks to parents, grandchildren, siblings, and grandparents, someone who stand to inherit under the law, a person who knows and can identify the deceased person and agrees to take responsibility for expenses, or the county medical examiner, in that order.

Where can I get more information?

  • Iowa Find-A-Lawyer is an online directory of attorneys provided by the Iowa State Bar Association. Information about options for the disposition of remains can also be found in its Older Iowans Handbook.
  • Iowa Legal Aid is a non-profit agency that provides legal assistance to low-income and vulnerable Iowans. Information can be found on the Iowa Legal Aid website and they can be reached by phone at 800-532-1503 or, for Iowans 60 or older, 800-992-8161.