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To Cremate or Not to Cremate: You Have No Choice

Posted April 15, 2015 in Advice Column, Grimes

I have had recent opportunity to explore Iowa Statute 144C.5 “Final Disposition of Remains – Right to Control.” You may be surprised to learn that you have no control over what happens to your remains, whether you chose to be cremated or not, where to be buried, etc. Even if you put it in your will, it has no legal effect. Those left behind are in control. The statute provides you with the power to choose who will make the decisions, however.

You can complete a form appointing a person as your “Designee” of final disposition. This can be any person you want. The statute does not provide for you to name co-agents and requiring them to agree. Actually, it is silent on that matter, so I am not sure how the funeral home would respond to that.

Presumably, if you chose the person who will be your designee, that person will honor your wishes. However, that person is not legally obligated to do so, even if you have prepaid for services, purchased a cemetery plot, etc. I KNOW! You are thinking exactly what I was thinking. How could they make this law!? Well, let’s back up. Presume you said you wanted a regular open casket funeral, whole body burial, etc., and purchased a cemetery plot in your home town, in Florida. But then you moved to Iowa. And, 45 years later you died, leaving little money to pay for a full funeral or to transport you back to Florida to be buried where your children never knew anyone. Should they be stuck with honoring your wishes? No.   It’s those left behind who have to carry out the tasks, and sometimes pay for it, too.

A lawyer can provide you with the form you need. It must be either witnessed by two people or notarized. If you do not designate a person to have this power, then by operation of law, the right to make the decision falls to (in order) (1) your spouse, (2) your children (if you have more than one, the majority must agree), (3) parent(s), (4) grandchildren (majority rule), (5) sibling(s) (majority rule), (6) grandparents (majority rule), (7) next of kin under the laws of succession, and then, (8) any person who identifies the body and is will to pay for the funeral.


Information provided by Cynthia Letsch, Letsch Law Firm, 112 N.E. Ewing St., Suite D, Grimes, 515-986-2810, www.LetschLawFirm.com.

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