Iowa Tax & Estate Planning Blog
Legally safeguard your final resting place
Feb. 25, 2013 – Christine Fleming Halbrook, Iowa Tax & Estate Planning Blog
The Iowa Supreme Court recently ruled that a decedent may not dictate where his or her remains are to be buried. In a 5-2 opinion, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled In the Matter of the Estate of Mary Florence Whalen that Iowa’s Final Disposition Act (Iowa Code Section 144C) requires an individual to designate an agent to handle the disposition of his or her body. Otherwise the surviving spouse of the decedent is the authorized decision maker. The designee is permitted to make decisions regarding the decedent’s remains, even if those decisions do not comport with the wishes of the decedent.
In this case, Mary Whalen and her spouse, Michael Whalen, had been separated (but not legally separated or divorced) for many years. Mary clearly stated in her will and in correspondence to family members that she wanted to be buried in Montana. Her husband, Michael, decided Mary was to be buried in Iowa. Mary never executed a proper designation of agent as permitted under Iowa’s Final Disposition Act. Because Mary did not designate an agent, the Court ruled that upon Mary’s death, her husband was statutorily authorized to make decisions regarding her burial, even if his decision was contrary to Mary’s instructions and wishes.
To avoid a similar outcome upon your death, consider executing a Declaration of Designee for Final Disposition and make sure you designate someone who is aware of your wishes. While it is ultimately the designated individual’s decision as to your final resting place, careful selection of a designee can alleviate many issues.
Practice Area Categories: Trusts & Estates Law