When writing wills with clients, I find that many people do not have a ready response to this traditional estate planning question: “What would you like to have done with your remains?”

Religious, cultural and family traditions may offer answers. In the absence of tradition, clients may feel unmoored.

Outside of religion, clients tend to make decisions based on three main factors: the cost, whether your surviving family will be comfortable with your wishes, and how your personal values will be reflected.

Here are some options to consider. Please note that I do not vouch for the quality of these service providers. Links are included only for your convenience to find additional information.

1.     Donating your body to science

2.     Reserving a burial plot

Burial in a graveyard involves the expense of reserving a grave site (or more than one site if you wish to be buried next to other family members).  Another cost is the cost of a casket.  You may wish to buy grave sites now to save the expense from being taken from your estate.

3.  Cremation with ashes scattered: You may leave instructions for your family on how to scatter your ashes. Clients are often interested to know that the Washington State Ferry system offers ash scattering services in a biodegradable or “journey” urn

4.   Growing a tree from your urn: The legal option in Washington state is a biodegradable “Living Urn”. Your cremated ashes are housed inside a pod filled with potting soil and nutrients planted along with a sapling variety favored by the client.

5. Natural Choices:

While it is not legal to bury human remains in the state and federal forests, Washington state does have a Green Burial Council that certifies three types of eco-conscience cemeteries: “hybrid, natural, and conservation”. An example of one of these cemeteries is The Meadow at Moles Greenacres Memorial Park in Northern Washington. The Meadow considers everything, from providing biodegradable caskets, to a plot of land surrounded by native vegetation, that requires very minimal ground maintenance. Instead of a tombstone, you are offered a natural engraved river rock, a shrub, or a tree to mark your grave.

Many are turning to coffins that are biodegradable, or made from sustainably sourced wood, bamboo, wicker or cardboard. Some clients are drawn to the artisanal look and feel of these options and the sense of peace that comes from beauty. Biodegradable burial shrouds, fiber arts and local plant life are regularly incorporated into the natural look and feel of these burials.

6. A final note: conscience consumerism

Alternative, bio-based burial practices are becoming increasingly popular as families realize the significance of planning out their final arrangements. Check with your funeral home, cremation or burial service and ask what green offerings they have and you may be surprised.  Much like weddings, your individual choices such as a flowerless wake, locally-sourced food at your ceremony, or even donating to your favorite cause to commemorate a passing goes a long way.