Unusual Alternatives for Disposing of Your Body After Death

When most people think of what happens to their bodily remains after death, a traditional funeral and casket burial are what typically come to mind, with cremation being an increasingly preferred alternative to traditional burial because it is generally much less expensive than a traditional burial.  With cremation, remains are reduced to ash in an incineration chamber and are often stored by loved ones in a decorative urn for display. There are even urns that display photographs, are turned into lamps, are worn as lockets, or are biodegradable. In many cases, cremated remains (also called cremains) are be scattered in the mountains or out to sea, etc., releasing the remains of a loved one to a place that was special to them (but you must always check local laws before sprinkling cremains, as some jurisdictions have strict rules on where cremains can be released). 
 
However, in addition to traditional casket burial and cremation, more and more people are considering alternatives to the traditional. If you’re someone who hates thinking about death or is squeamish about the subject, then you might want to stop reading.  But if you’re curious about the various options for disposing of your body after death, please read on … in our current economy and with environmental concerns at the forefront, many people are exploring non-traditional postmortem options, which can include:

  • Natural Burial: These take place without embalming and without the concrete vaults that line graves in most modern cemeteries. Bodies are wrapped in a shroud or placed in a biodegradable casket, with the idea being that they will decompose naturally. Find out more about natural burial here.
  • Resomation: Now, people can choose to have their tissues dissolved as a less energy-intensive alternative to traditional cremation. The process, called resomation or “bio-cremation,” uses heated water and potassium hydroxide to liquefy the body, leaving only bones behind. The bones are then pulverized, much as in regular cremation, and the cremains may then be returned to the family. Find out more at http://www.resomation.com/.
  • Eternal Reefs: These heavy concrete orbs can be created using artificial reef material out of a mixture of concrete and human cremains (the crushed bone left over from cremations). They are then placed in areas where reefs need restoration, attracting fish and other organisms that turn the remains into an undersea habitat.  See www.eternalreefs.com for more information.
  • Cryonics: This is the process of freezing a person’s body in the hopes that later medical science will make it possible to revive them, personality and memory intact. Despite the numerous barriers to this, including the toxicity of chemicals used in an attempt to prevent damage to cells from freezing, advocates have promoted cryonics since the late ’60s. Prices can range as high as $200,000 for whole-body preservation. Learn more about Cryonics at http://www.cryonics.org.
  • Space Burial: You can get some of your ashes shot into space on a rocket already headed for the stars. Because of the high cost of spaceflight, only 1 to 7 grams (0.04 to 0.25 ounces) of remains are launched. According to Celestis Memorial Spaceflights, a company that offers postmortem flights, a low-orbit journey that lets your cremains experience zero gravity before returning to Earth starts at $995, while having your remains launched into deep space costs $12,500. Learn more at http://www.celestis.com/.
  • Mummification services are not just for ancient Egyptians anymore. A religious organization called Summum offers mummification services to both people and pets. Before his death in 2008, Summum’s founder Corky Ra told CBS News that at least 1,400 people had signed up for eventual mummification. The price of human mummification starts at $67,000.
  • Plastination involves preserving the body in a semi-recognizable form. Plastinated bodies can be exhibited and posed as if frozen in the midst of their everyday activities. Learn more here. This process is often used in medical schools and anatomy labs to preserve organ specimens for education.
  • Works of art or diamonds: Lifegem is one of several companies that turns cremains into diamonds. Cremation Solutions also makes cremains into diamonds, as well as crystal jewelry, blown-glass work of art, and many other alternatives.
  • Promession: This option (not currently commercially available to our knowledge) uses liquid nitrogen to quickly freeze the body; the frozen and is then slightly vibrated which turns it into a powder and then the powder is dried. The powder can then be placed in a corn or potato starch coffin and buried. This option reduces the impact on water, air, and soil compared to the traditional burial or cremation. Learn more here.

What if you want to be cremated and for your ashes to be sent into space or planted with seeds to grow a new tree? What if you want to take a chance on science and have your body frozen, as Walt Disney did? How would your loved ones know if you haven’t indicated your wishes in your Advance Medical Directive?

Our proprietary 4-Needs Advance Medical Directive® enables you to set forth your preferences with regard to organ donation, funeral arrangements, and disposition of remains. The document also accomplishes several essential things. In your 4-Needs Advance Medical Directive, you can appoint an agent and give that person the power to consent to medical and health care decisions on your behalf. This person can decide whether to withhold or withdraw a specific medical treatment or course of treatment when you are incapable of making or communicating an informed decision yourself. Our 4-Needs Advance Medical Directive also contains a proprietary Long-Term Care Directive® that allows you to address numerous issues that arise if and when long-term care is needed.  You can also indicate your wishes concerning the use of artificial or extraordinary measures to prolong your life in the event of a terminal illness or injury.

If you have not done Incapacity Planning (including our 4-Needs Advance Medical Directive and Financial Power of Attorney), Estate Planning, or Long-Term Care Planning, or if you have a loved one who is nearing the need for long-term care or already receiving long-term care, please contact Farr Law Firm as soon as possible at our Virginia Elder Law Fairfax office at 703-691-1888 or at our Virginia Elder Law Fredericksburg office at 540-479-1435 to schedule your appointment for our no-cost consultation. 

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.

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