Resting Place: What to do with your bodily remains

When it comes time to write wills, 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: cost, whether your surviving family will be comfortable with your wishes, and staying true to personal values.

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 -- If you leave your body to science, be sure to also include a back-up plan. Far more people offer up their bodies to say, the UW Medical School than they can readily handle. Establishments that do need bodies for learning or research tend to only accept ones in excellent condition.  

2.     Reserving a burial plot: Current thinking is to only buy a gravesite in a local cemetery in advance if you are quite sure that you will remain close by for the rest of your years. In recent years there has been a trend of people needing to sell unused cemetery plots which were purchased in advance by family members who ended up dying far away never to return. Note that some less reputable funeral homes are known for up-selling grieving family members with the idea that truly honoring a loved one involves burying them in a casket made of expensive hardwoods surrounded by expensive floral arrangements.  Your will should Include instructions of what you want so family are not left adrift when deciding how best to honor your memory. 

3.  Cremation with ashes scattered: When writing your will, 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. There are countless ideas for what to do with ashes ranging from scattering in a beloved location to blasting ashes into outer space

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.   Bio-cremation: A movement is currently underway to legalize a process called Alkaline Hydrolysis which produces less carbon dioxide and pollutants than traditional cremation.  Alkaline Hydrolysis instead uses water and lye as part of a process to break down bodily remains to fine power in a matter of hours.  In January of 2017, a bill was proposed in Olympia to legalize Alkaline Hydrolysis cremation of human remains in Washington State. The bill was unsuccessful and Alkaline Hydrolysis option is not yet recognized in our state.

The choices you make are ultimately personal and a reflection of your family, self and values. Rest assured that no matter your choices we will capture and document your wishes in the estate planning process.

Michael Geoghegan