One way we can show our loved ones how much we care about them is by making our wishes known for when we’re no longer there to tell them. Estate planning is one of the best ways to do that, especially concerning what’s to be done with our physical body after death. One of the six main documents that are part of any estate plan is called the “disposition of final remains.” In this document, you can detail how you want your body to be treated after you pass away, along with any ceremonial requests. You may be as general or specific as you wish.


As discussed in 12 Things Every Iowan Should Know About Estate Planning, there are six documents that should be part of most everyone’s estate plan:

  1. Estate planning questionnaire
  2. Will
  3. Power of attorney for health care
  4. Power of attorney for financial matters
  5. Disposition of personal property
  6. Disposition of final remains

At the outset of this seven-part series of blog posts about estate planning, I explained the basics of a will . Then, I covered health care power of attorney, and also financial power of attorney.

Let’s now turn to the Disposition of Final Remains.

If you’ve ever had someone close to you die, and been tasked with making arrangements for the wake, funeral, and burial or cremation, you know it can be difficult. Not only are you dealing with the heartache and grief of losing a loved one, but now you’re also tasked with the organizational aspects of death.

If you die without an estate plan, and without clear instructions in a disposition of final remains document, you’ll be leaving your loved ones with a huge headache on top of the inevitable heartache. Perhaps even worse, ambiguity surrounding disposition of final remains can lead to tension between family members if they disagree over what would be best. Therefore, taking the time to think through your final services is a wonderful gift, and a great way to show your loved ones how much you care.

Let’s go through some of the basics related to this important, valuable document.


Final disposition sounds, well, final. Indeed, this is about what you ultimately want to be done with your physical body following death. This may include burial (sometimes referred to interment), cremation, removal from the state (if you want to be buried in a different state), and other types of disposition. If you wish, you may also detail preference that a funeral or other type of ceremony (maybe even a party) to be held. If you’ve purchased a burial plot or want to be laid to rest in the family mausoleum, you would include those details here.

Again, your instructions in the Final Disposition of Remains may be as general or specific as you wish. Some of my clients have insisted that there be only the shortest and simplest of memorial services. Others have wanted a marching band and fireworks shooting their ashes into the sky. (Yes, that is a thing). It’s completely up to you.


In the disposition of final remains document, you can designate one or multiple adults to assume responsibility for carrying out your wishes, similar to how you designate an executor to carry out the wishes as written in your will. Your designee or designees (sometimes also referred to as “representatives”) can be whomever you choose, just be sure to speak with them to make certain they are comfortable and accepting of the role.

Of course, the designee must be a competent adult. The document also allows for alternate designees to be named in the event the primary designee is unable to act.


Your wishes may change over time and that’s OK! The disposition of final remains is revocable, meaning you can change the document at any time. For example, you can name a new and different your designee if s/he becomes unable or unwilling. Regardless of whether or not you want to amend your disposition of final remains document, you should review your estate plan annually to see if any major life events require updates.


It’s always a good time to make a plan that saves your loved one’s headaches and heartache after your death. The disposition of final remains document is a key part of your estate plan, so a great place to get started is my free Estate Plan Questionnaire.

Questions or want to discuss your personal situation? Contact me at any time via email or phone (515-371-6077).

*OK, not everything. But many things, let’s say, an excellent start.


If you read the September issue of my e-newsletter, GoFisch, you already have a jump start on this month’s book club pick! Head to your library, your e-reader, or favorite local bookstore and pick up a copy of My Father’s Wake, by Kevin Toolis. Toolis is a profound storyteller, which is evident not just from his writings but from his award-nominated films.

Death is an enmeshed component of estate planning. This can be difficult to dwell on at times, but there’s also some comfort in knowing that death will reach us all. No one is exempt from this destiny, which is what makes life, so incredibly vibrant in comparison. What we can control is how our loved ones will be provided for. Really, at it’s core, making an estate plan is deciding who you want to inherit the property you own (everything from your home to your art to your car), when you want that to happen, and how after you pass from this world.

My Father's Wake

This is why this book resonates so strongly. Our perception of death is shaped by the customs of our respective cultures and how we honor our deceased. From this book, it’s evident that we can learn a great deal from how the Irish deal with death.

While I’m not Irish myself, as the son of German immigrants, I identified strongly with the author’s drive to connect with and participate in the culture and customs of his heritage. For instance, the book teaches us that a meitheal is an old Irish word for a gathering together for a communal task. An Irish wake can be considered a meitheal of sorts—a communing of mortal souls to aid the deceased in bridging the ephemeral space between life and death and aid.

I lost my own father earlier this year and would recommend this book in particular to anyone who has lost someone they love.

I would like to hear your thoughts about this book in the comments below! What stuck with you? What would you like to learn more about? Do you have any recommendations of books (fiction or non) related to Gordon Fischer Law Firm’s core services of estate planningnonprofit formation and guidancenonprofit employment law; or donations and complex gifts? Let me know in the comments or contact me by email or phone!

Iowa Court Rule 39.18

I regularly help and encourage my clients to complete business succession planning. So, I was immensely interested in fully understanding and helping to explain the Iowa Court Rule 39.18 which mandates some aspects of practice succession planning for active Iowa lawyers. I wrote extensively on the subject in a four-part series for The Iowa Lawyer (you can find links to all the articles here). But, with the deadline for compliance fast approaching, it is useful to have just the basic. The ISBA recently published my rundown of nothing but the essentials in The Iowa Lawyer Weeklyand for convenience I’m publishing it here as well.

This short article directly informs every Iowa private practitioner precisely what s/he needs to know about new Iowa Court Rule 39.18. Under the Iowa Court Rule 39.18, Iowa-licensed lawyers must take steps to prepare for their own disability or death. New questions that are related to Rule 39.18 compliance will be included on the Iowa Client Security Commission 2018 Client Security Reports to be filed via the Iowa Office of Professional Regulation between Dec. 26, 2018 and March 10, 2018 without penalty.

Two Tiers

Iowa Court Rule 39.18 is divided into two tiers; the first tier is mandatory; the second tier is optional. The second, optional tier is very helpful, and I’d urge every Iowa layer to seriously look at implementing it. Considering that I write this in mid-December, however, it may be wise for Iowa lawyers to make certain they are in full compliance with the mandatory provisions, and give the optional provisions more full and careful consideration in 2018. Since this article is about just the basics, I’m just going to discuss only the mandatory provisions of Iowa Court Rule 39.18.


Choose Designee and Custodian

Every Iowa attorney in private practice must choose and identify both a designated representative and a custodian. The term designee representative(s) is defined, while the term custodian is not. The designated representative (hereinafter “designee”) must be either an:

  1. active Iowa attorney in good standing;
  2. Iowa law firm that includes Iowa attorneys in good standing (including the attorney’s own firm); or
  3. qualified attorney-servicing association.

A “qualified attorney-servicing association” is a bar association, all or part of whose members are admitted to practice law in the state of Iowa; a company authorized to sell attorneys professional liability insurance in Iowa; or an Iowa bank with trust powers issued by the Iowa Division of Banking.

(Important note: Earlier this month The Iowa State Bar Association Board of Governors authorized The ISBA to serve as a qualified attorney servicing association.) Again, the term “custodian” in not defined. The custodian can be anyone – a fellow lawyer, friend, spouse, administrative assistant, whomever.

Clients Lists and Client Files

Additionally, every Iowa attorney in private practice is responsible for the following: (1) maintaining a current list of active clients in a location accessible by the designee; (2) identifying the custodian to the designee; and (3) identifying the locations of the client list, electronic and paper files, records, passwords, and any other security protocols required to access the electronic files and records for the custodian and, ultimately, for the designee.


Businessman taking notes and planning in a meeting

Death or Disability

Iowa Court Rule 39.18 kicks into action only in two extreme circumstances: your death or your disability (a disability so severe you can no longer practice law, whether temporarily or permanently). Upon your death or disability, your designee is given broad authority, including the right to review client files (whether paper or electronic or both), notify each client of your death or disability, serve as a successor signatory for any client trust accounts, prepare final trust accountings for clients, make trust account disbursements, properly dispose of inactive files, and arrange for storage of files and trust account records. Also, the designee is authorized to access passwords and other security protocols required to access electronic files and records. Finally, as a “catch all” provision, the designee may determine whether there is need for other immediate action to protect the interests of clients.

Read More About Iowa Court Rule 39.18

If you would like to read deeper beyond these basics, click to the September through December 2017 issues of The Iowa Lawyer from the online archives to read our four-part series. In the series, all the elements (mandatory and supplementary) of Iowa Court Rule 39.18 are reviewed and explained in detail.

There is also a list of additional resources that can be found here. If you’re an active lawyer in Iowa help your fellow counselors out and share this piece with them so they will be prepared not only for the Iowa Client Security Commission 2018 Client Security Reports, but in the off chance of unexpected death or a disability. If you have any questions as you set your plans in place contact me by email or phone (515-371-6077).