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How to Find a Death Record in Iowa?

What Are Death Records in Iowa?

A death record is the official documentation of the demise of the individual named on the record. It is a permanent legal record of a person's death. Death records are principally recognized as the primary source of death information which is useful for forming health policies and in medical and health-related research.

In Iowa, official registration of deaths began July 1, 1880, following the inauguration of the Iowa State Board of Health. At its first meeting, the Board created an Iowa Vital Records system responsible for maintaining death records among other vital records in the state. Although some Iowa counties kept death records prior to 1880, the information contained in those records are brief and may be inaccurate. Iowa established a new vital records system in 2014 to help file death records more promptly and accurately.

A death certificate is required for accessing pension benefits, settling estates, claiming life insurance, getting married (where a widow or widower needs to prove that a previous partner is deceased), or arranging for a funeral.

An Iowa death certificate contains:

  • The decedent's name
  • The decedent's place of death
  • The decedent's age
  • The decedent's occupation or kind of business
  • The decedent's usual residence
  • The cause of death
  • The decedent's marital status
  • The decedent's sex
  • The decedent’s date of birth
  • The decedent's birthplace
  • The decedent’s father’s name
  • The decedent's mother's maiden name
  • The name of the decedent's spouse
  • The decedent's color or race

How are Death Records Created in Iowa?

Death records are filed in Iowa using the Electronic Death Registration System (EDRS). Launched on April 21, 2014, the EDRS is now in use by funeral directors, medical certifiers (DO, MD, PA, ARNP), medical examiners who complete death certification registration in line with Iowa law. The system is used to register all deaths occurring on or after April 21, 2014. EDRS has reduced the inaccuracies and errors common with the previously used system. Death certificates are useful as legal documents for several purposes including administrative and public health purposes; hence, they must be completed promptly and accurately.

EDRS has replaced the manual paper process, thereby eliminating the personal delivery of records to physicians for completion and signature, extensive and costly travel by funeral directors to file certifications, and labor-intensive processing of paper records at the county recorder's office and by the Iowa Bureau of Health Statistics.

Funeral directors, medical examiners, medical certifiers, and state and local registrars are required to enroll on EDRS in order to use the system. Contact the EDRS help desk at (866) 309-0831 or to request the enrollment forms, system requirements, and user manuals. Web-based trainings are also available online for funeral directors and medical certifiers.

How to Find Death Records Online in Iowa?

Iowa death records less than 75 years are confidential records closed to the public. Hence, requesters cannot look up death records in the state. Through the Iowa Department of Public Health's (IDPH) partnership with a third-party vendor, requesters can obtain death records online. The vendor charges an additional fee for every order placed via their portal. Through the authorized company, death records can be ordered online promptly due to the direct processing of requests with the IDPH based on the collaboration between the two entities.

Considered open to citizens of the United States, public records are available through both traditional, government sources, and through third-party websites and organizations. In many cases, third-party websites make the search easier as they are not limited geographically or by technological limitations. They are considered a good place to start when looking for a specific record or multiple records. In order to gain access to these records, interested parties must typically provide:

  • The name of the person listed in the record. Juveniles are typically exempt from this search method.
  • The last known or assumed location of the person listed in the record. This includes cities, counties, and states.

While third-party sites offer such services, they are not government-sponsored entities, and record availability may vary on these sites when compared to government sources.

How to Find Death Records for Free in Iowa?

The Iowa vital record system is closed to public inspection. However, under Section 22 of the Iowa Code, death records may be inspected as of right when in the custody of the county registrar. However, to obtain death records, an application must include the statutory copy fee and proof of identity or eligibility. Iowa accepts one document from the primary list of acceptable identification or two to three forms of documents from the secondary list of acceptable identification.

The primary list of identification is a set of IDs issued by a U.S. government office that have not expired which contain the signature of the holder. The list comprises:

  • Driver’s license
  • State photo ID
  • Work photo ID
  • School photo ID (current school year only)
  • Military ID
  • Passport or Visa
  • Permanent Resident Card (Form I-551)
  • Employment Authorization Card (Form I-766)

The secondary list comprises:

  • Expired driver’s license, plus one other document in the same name
  • Non-US passport, plus one other document in the same name
  • Matricula Consular card, plus one other documents in the same name
  • International driver’s license, plus one other documents in the same name
  • Foreign-issued voter’s registration or identity card, plus two other documents in the same name
  • Non-government issued identity card, plus two other documents in the same name
  • Income tax return
  • Rent or mortgage receipts
  • Car title or registration
  • Court documents
  • Criminal record
  • Insurance policy
  • Banking documents – credit or debit card with photo
  • Utility bill – current and same mailing address
  • Medicare or Medicaid card
  • Medical card
  • Hospital bill

Note that the names and current addresses listed on the documents provided from the secondary list must match. When submitting notarized documents, include a photocopy of each person's identity documentation. Also, include the reverse side of the ID only if the person's signature is on the reverse side instead of the front.

The Iowa Department of Public Health offers commemorative certificates for births resulting in stillbirths. The commemorative certificate is not a valid certified copy; hence, it is not a legal document. The parchment certificate features a gold foil border, an image of the state capital of Iowa, a calligraphy print of the individuals' personal information, and a gold embossed State of Iowa Department of Public Health seal. The certificate of birth resulting in stillbirth is signed by the Deputy State Registrar. The memorable keepsake is 8.5" x 11" size and is suitable for framing. Only the parent(s) named on the certificate of fetal death may apply for the commemorative. A fetal death certificate must be filed for the parent(s) to obtain a certificate of birth resulting in stillbirth.

The following are required when applying for a commemorative certificate:

  • A completed application that is legible and clearly identifies the event record and establishes entitlement to the record requested
  • Applicant's current government-issued photo identification (copy, if sent by mail)
  • Payment of the required amount for each commemorative. Fess may be paid for with a check or money order. Cash payments are only accepted for in-person applications
  • The signature must be notarized on the application when submitting via mail.

Submit completed application, check or money order, and valid identification to:

Iowa Department of Public Health
Bureau of Health Statistics
Lucas State Office Building
1st Floor, 321 E. 12th Street
Des Moines, IA 50319-0075

How to Obtain Iowa Death Records in Person?

To obtain an Iowa death record in person, visit the State Vital Records Office at:

Iowa Department of Public Health
Bureau of Health Statistics
Lucas State Office Building, 1st Floor
321 E. 12th Street
Des Moines, IA 50319-0075

Walk-in requests are accepted in the Office between 7:00 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, except for state-observed holidays. Although an application form can be obtained at the Vital Records Office, requests can also be made via written applications. In such cases, written applications must be satisfactorily completed and signed in front of vital records staff. Proper fees and valid, current government-issued photo identification will also be required of requesters before records can be issued.

County recorders are also authorized to issue certified copies of all death records filed in their counties between 1954 to the present.

How to Obtain Iowa Death Records by Mail?

To obtain an Iowa death record by mail:

  • Complete the Application for an Iowa Vital Record Form. The application must be notarized.
  • Include a clear photocopy of a government-issued photo identification
  • Include the applicable fee in the form of a check or money order made payable to the "Iowa Department of Public Health."
  • Mail completed application, valid ID, and the check or money order of the exact amount to:

Iowa Department of Public Health
Bureau of Health Statistics
Lucas State Office Building, 1st Floor
321 E. 12th Street
Des Moines, IA 50319-0075

Where Can I Get Death Records in Iowa?

Iowa death records can be obtained from the Iowa Department of Public Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics. On the county level, death records are also available at the local county registrar offices in the state.

Can Anyone Get a Copy of a Death Certificate in Iowa?

Iowa requires that anyone requesting a death record in the state must be able to demonstrate a direct and tangible interest in the record. Entitled persons include:

  • The spouse of the person named on the record
  • The children or grandchildren of the person named on the record
  • The legal parents, grandparents, grandchildren, or siblings of the person named on the record
  • The legal representative or guardian of the person named on the record

Additional proof of entitlement is required of legal guardians and legal representatives before death records can be obtained. For genealogical purposes, anyone may be allowed to obtain or view death records older than 75 years without having to prove a direct relationship to the person named on the record.

How Much Does a Death Certificate Cost in Iowa?

Each copy of an Iowa death certificate costs $15. Although a requester will receive a notification of the record search if a requested record cannot be located, the $15 fee will not be refunded. Each additional copy of the same record costs $15. Orders placed by mail can be paid by check or money order made payable to the “Iowa Department of Public Health.”

The IDPH's third-party vendor accepting online orders for death certificates charges an additional fee for using their services. Fees start at $9 per order. UPS overnight shipping for online orders costs about $33, while UPS 2-day shipping costs $30.50. The vendor accepts all major credit cards including American Express, Discover, MasterCard, and Visa.

An Iowa commemorative certificate of birth resulting in stillbirth costs $35.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Death Certificate in Iowa?

Death certificate orders placed in person at the State Vital Records Office before 2:00 p.m. are processed within 2 hours. Requests placed after 2:00 p.m. are usually ready for pick up the next business day. Mail orders take about 4-6 weeks to complete.

Online orders placed return in 5-10 business days when regular UPS shipping service is selected. For UPS Overnight orders, online orders are returned in 2-5 business days. Regular mail returns for online orders take 2-3 weeks to complete

Genealogy requests require at least 60 days for processing and are mailed to applicants by standard postal delivery only.

The Iowa Department of Public Health encourages requesters to plan ahead and order certified copies of death certificates required in advance. Due to the increase of vital record requests for the purpose of obtaining a REAL ID, processing times may be extended beyond typical periods. The processing times stated are approximate and not guaranteed service times.

How Long to Keep Records After Death?

After the death of an individual, family members may need to locate all the decedent’s important papers. This allows family members and, where necessary, the estate attorney assisting the family with settling the decedent's final affairs, all the important information required to complete probate or trust settlement processes.

The decedent’s vital records such as birth, death, and marriage certificates should be held permanently. Tax records and other financial records are typically held for at least 7 years. Medical records should be kept for about 10 years. Rental agreements may be held for 3 years while home and car insurance policies should be held on to for a minimum of 10 years.

How to Expunge Death Records in Iowa?

Expungement refers to court-ordered sealing of a record. In some instances, expungement extends to the physical destruction of a file or record to make it inaccessible to the public. An expungement is considered useful in certain instances. For example, it may be necessary and deemed fit by a court of competent jurisdiction to protect the privacy and other interests of the person(s) connected to the event(s) stated on the record.

How to Seal Death Records in Iowa?

Iowa makes no provisions for death records to be sealed or expunged in the state.

How to Unseal Death Records in Iowa?

Although Iowa death records less than 75 years are closed records, such records are not sealed by court order and can be obtained by eligible persons. These records can even be inspected at the county level in Iowa. Iowa death records cannot be sealed and hence no statutes were established to provide for unsealing death records in the state.