Making Funeral Arrangements in Iowa

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In Iowa, you may name the person who will carry out your funeral arrangements. You can also provide detailed instructions about your final wishes and set aside funds to cover your funeral expenses, including the costs of burial or cremation.

Who Has the Right to Make Funeral Arrangements in Iowa?

Iowa law determines who can make decisions about funerals and body disposition -- that is, burial or cremation -- after someone dies. This right and responsibility goes to the following people, in order:

  • a person you name in a declaration document made before your death
  • your surviving spouse, unless you are legally separated
  • your child, or a majority of your children if you have more than one
  • your parents
  • your grandchild, or a majority of your grandchildren if you have more than one
  • your sibling, or a majority of your siblings if you have more than one
  • your grandparent, or a majority of your grandparents if you have more than one
  • your next of kin
  • a person who knows you and is willing to assume the right and responsibility, or
  • the county medical examiner.

(Iowa Code § 144C.5.)

Making a declaration. To make a document appointing someone to carry out your final wishes, you must use Iowa’s official declaration or a form that is substantially similar to it. Your declaration must be contained in -- or attached to -- a durable power of attorney for health care. You are also required to sign and date the declaration in front of two witnesses or a notary public. If you choose to have your declaration witnessed, neither of the witnesses may be the representative you named to handle your final arrangements. (Iowa Code § 144C.6.)

You can download a free Iowa declaration from the website of the Funeral Consumers Alliance.

For information about making your health care power of attorney, see Iowa Living Wills and Durable Powers of Attorney for Health Care.

To make a durable power of attorney for health care that automatically includes an official Iowa funeral arrangements declaration, you can use Nolo’s Quicken WillMaker Plus software.

If you are in the military. If you are in the military, you may name the person who will carry out your final wishes in the Record of Emergency Data provided by the Department of Defense.

Who Pays for Funeral Costs in Iowa?

The National Funeral Directors Association reports that the average cost of a funeral is more than $7,000. This figure doesn’t cover many common expenses such as cemetery costs, markers, flowers, or obituaries. For many people, after a house and a car, funeral goods and services are the most expensive thing they’ll ever buy. It’s wise to make a plan to pay for these costs.

You have two basic options for covering your funeral expenses, including the costs of burial or cremation. You can:

  • pay in advance, or
  • leave enough money for your survivors to pay the bills.

If you don’t do either of these things, your survivors must cover the costs of your funeral arrangements.

Paying in advance. If you want to pay for your funeral arrangements ahead of time, make sure you’re dealing with a reputable funeral establishment and clearly document any plans you make, so your survivors can easily carry them out. Though the law requires providers of funeral goods and services to carefully manage your funds (see, for example, Iowa Code § 523A.201), abuses do happen. What’s more, if a funeral establishment goes out of business, your careful planning may be lost.

For more information, see The Prepaid Funeral and Its Perils.

Setting aside funds. The safest and easiest way to cover the costs of your final arrangements is to estimate costs and tuck away the funds in an easily accessible, interest-earning bank account. You can designate a beneficiary who can claim the funds immediately after your death. Make sure the beneficiary understands what the money is for, however, and that you trust him or her completely, because the beneficiary is under no legal obligation to use the funds for your final arrangements.

For more information about setting up an account to cover the costs of your final arrangements, see Payable-on-Death (POD) Accounts: The Basics.

Writing Down Your Funeral Plans

Beyond simply naming a representative to carry out your final plans, letting your survivors know what kind of funeral arrangements you want -- including your wishes for ceremonies and whether you want to be buried or cremated -- will save them the difficulty of making these decisions during an emotional and stressful time. You may attach your detailed final wishes to your Iowa declaration form or to the durable power of attorney for health care that includes the declaration.

Nolo offers several tools to help you document your wishes for final arrangements. Each one walks you step-by-step through the process, so you won’t miss any important issues.

  • Quicken WillMaker Plus can create a final arrangements document for you. The software program asks you questions about your wishes and then produces a detailed document you can give to others. As mentioned above, you can also use the program to make a durable power of attorney for health care that includes the appointment of your agent to make final arrangements, in accordance with Iowa law.
  • Get It Together: Organize Your Records So Your Family Won't Have To, by Melanie Cullen with Shae Irving, is a workbook that provides a complete system for documenting information for your executor and family members, including your wishes for final arrangements.
  • Nolo’s Final Arrangements Kit includes all the basic forms and instructions you need to document your final wishes.

Where to Store Your Funeral Plans

While there are many ways to write down your wishes for final arrangements and make them clear, here’s a firm piece of advice to follow: Don’t put them in your will. Your will may not be read until weeks after your death -- far too late to help your survivors. It’s better to prepare a separate document.

Store your final arrangements paperwork in a safe place and be sure your loved ones know where to look when the time comes. It may be helpful to make copies and tell them where to find the originals when they’re needed. If you do so, be sure to keep a list of everyone with copies, in case you need to get them back and change them later.

Learn More

To find the rules covering funeral arrangements in Iowa, including consumer protection information, visit the website of the Iowa Funeral Directors Association.

To learn more about making your final arrangements, see Getting Your Affairs in Order on Nolo.com.

For details on the rules that control disposing of remains in Iowa, see Burial and Cremation Laws in Iowa.

by: , J.D.

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