So far on this blog we have talked about who gets my stuff when I die and who gets my pets when I die – but we haven’t yet addressed an important question: who gets ME when I die?
*Bonus points if you can name the movie this torturous scene is from*
As estate planning attorneys, we are privileged to get to work with many different kinds of people from often very different backgrounds. However, one thing is common to all humans – mortality. And so we all have to consider what will happen to us after we pass. For legal purposes, of course, we are only considering what happens to our earthly/physical forms. To some people, this matter is of great importance, while to others, it matters very little.
There are a number of questions to consider when evaluating what you would like to happen to your remains after you pass:
· Would you like to be cremated or buried? Or something else entirely?
· If you would like to be buried – in any special place or in any specific way?
· If you would like to be cremated - what would you like to have happen with your cremated remains? Should they be scattered somewhere special? Should they be interred? Should they be sprinkled in the garden?
· If you’re religious, would you like special ceremonies to take place or instructions to be followed?
· If you have served in the armed forces, would you like to take advantage of military benefits?
· Or if you’re already thinking “well none of this matters to me – I’ll be gone!” – would you like an obituary or a ceremony? Or would you prefer the “no falderal” approach?
Clearly there are a lot of considerations even if you don’t care much about what happens to your remains after you pass. For this reason, it can be immensely helpful to provide clear instructions to your family/friends so that when the time comes, they won’t have these additional concerns hanging over their heads.
This raises another question – have you listed an agent who will follow your requests? If you are particularly religious (or are particularly non-religious) and have specific requests you would like to have followed, you may want to name an agent who shares your beliefs (or would at least honor them).
Please also consider the legality of any requests that you make. For example, our firm includes language noting a request should be carried out “to the extent allowed under applicable law”. While there aren’t Cremation Police out trying to catch grieving families in the act, there are both federal and state laws that may impact the legality of your post-mortem directions.
For example, you are generally prohibited from scattering anything in the air that would harm someone if it fell on them. Luckily, loose ashes don’t fall under this category. However, before you go and sprinkle your loved one’s ashes off a bridge, boat, or cliff, consider the strength of the wind. We have heard horror stories of individuals trying to let loved ones go in this way, only to be immediately and literally smacked in the face with the loss.
If traditional burials and/or cremation don’t appeal to you, you could also consider more novel alternatives. Medical schools are accepting bodies for donation (if this interests you, speak to your attorney about completing the appropriate forms). Green burials (and alkaline hydrolysis) are also becoming increasingly popular environmentally conscious alternatives.
With a properly crafted Post Mortem Directive – the sky is the limit. Your agent can always consider the cost and feasibility of a request, so you should feel free to be honest about your wishes. For our pet lovers - we have heard of requests to have ashes mixed with pets’ ashes and sprinkled in the litter box. We have received requests for the use of cryogenics. We have seen instructions asking for remains to be fed to (various) wild animals. We have seen descriptions of intricate cultural and religious ceremonies. And we have helped craft language asking for the bare minimum – no extravagances, no obituary, no ceremony.
Whatever your personal preferences are, consider leaving clear instructions for your loved ones and speak with our firm or another qualified attorney to incorporate your post-mortem directives into your estate plan.
Post by: Madison R. Jones, J.D., M.B.A.
Disclaimer: These materials are designed as a general overview and should not be relied upon for legal or tax advice. Please consult a qualified attorney and/or tax advisor for compliance and up-to-date information and advice specific to your circumstances.