Over the past few decades, scientists have been sounding the alarm over climate change and the dangers posed to the environment as a result of a variety of human activity. This has led, over time, to the adoption of various practices meant to increase our sustainability and minimize our impact on the environment. Most people probably only consider their day-to-day lives when looking at how they might be more environmentally friendly. However, we might also want to think about the impact our death might have on the environment.
I recently came across this informative video from Vox which discusses the environmental costs of a traditional burial, along with alternatives such as cremation and other more uncommon forms of disposing of human remains:
Some of the negative impacts of burial?
- The use of cement, wood, and metal expended to construct burial plots and coffins;
- The use of space (approximately 32 square feet per person) which must be reserved for a burial plot (and which consequently can’t be used for any other reason); and
- The release of formalin, a toxic carcinogen, along with other untreated waste.
In addition to the environmental costs of burial, the video notes the actual monetary costs of burial, which greatly exceed the costs of cremation.
The video notes that cremation still comes with some costs to the environment, including the release of pollutants (including mercury) and the use of some resources such as natural gas and electricity (from heating the body). Overall, however, cremation appears to be a more environmentally friendly approach to disposing of remains. As a bonus, the video points out some interesting activities that can be done with ashes, such as placing them in fireworks (giving a whole new meaning to the expression ‘going out with a bang’).
For the most environmentally-conscious out there, the video also presents the options of natural burial where non-embalmed bodies are buried in either biodegradable containers or without any form of casket. The body is allowed to decompose naturally such that pollution and resource usage is minimized. More theoretical methods such as breaking down a body frozen in liquid nitrogen or dissolving human tissue in a mix of heated water and lye are also presented.
For anyone curious about the environmental impact of their death, the video is an informative six minute session.
Thanks for reading!
Here’s a scenario that’s becoming more common. A family member dies. The deceased had expressed a preference for cremation, and you, as the estate trustee, honour those wishes. The funeral home hands you a rather heavy velvet bag full of ashes and then, well, and then what?
Rest assured, you’re not alone. According to the Cremation Association of North America, more than 68% of Canadians are cremated at death, a number that’s expected to rise to nearly 75% by 2020. And if a friend or relative’s ashes are entrusted to you, you must decide the final resting place for the deceased.
You have more options than you might think. For example, you can:
- Bury the ashes in a traditional cemetery plot
- Place them in a structure designed to store ashes (a columbarium)
- Scatter the ashes – over private land, crown land, or even over lakes and oceans
While there are some restrictions on where you can scatter ashes, the laws are far more liberal than you might think. Here’s an overview of what’s permitted in Ontario.
If you are unsure about whether a location allows for the scattering of ashes, check in advance to make sure.
Travelling with ashes
For many people, the preferred location for the burial or scattering of ashes requires plane travel, and that adds an extra layer of complication.
While some airlines allow for cremated remains to be stored in checked luggage, others only allow these remains in your carry-on baggage. So, check with your airline before you fly. Either way, ashes must be in a container that can be viewed by security scanners. Think plastic or cardboard and not metal. You can find more information here.
Do you want to be creative? It’s truly amazing what people will do with the ashes of loved ones, from creating vinyl records, to making pencils, to the claim of Keith Richards that he snorted some of his dad’s ashes up his nose. This article has 27 ideas for those who are a bit more creative minded. It may not ultimately be for you, but it makes for entertaining reading nonetheless.
Thank you for reading,
Catto v. Catto illustrates some of the myriad of issues that can surround the administration of an estate.
There, the deceased died at the age of 50 without a will. He was survived by his wife of one year, and his mother and a brother.
The mother applied to the court to be appointed as Estate Trustee. The mother also sought an Order that the deceased’s ashes be exhumed, so that one half of the ashes could be buried in a family plot in Quebec, and an order that she be reimbursed for funeral expenses.
The brother sought an order for the inspection of a hockey card collection, so that he could determine which of the hockey cards in the deceased’s possession belonged to him.
The deceased’s spouse is alleged to have initially agreed to burial of the deceased’s ashes in the family plot. However, she subsequently obtained the ashes, and buried them in Peterborough.
In deciding what to do with the ashes, the court considered the question of who should be appointed as estate trustee. The estate trustee would be entitled to decide on the location and manner of burial of the ashes.
With respect to the appointment of estate trustee, the court considered the relevant statutes. The court noted that the surviving spouse was entitled to all of the property of the deceased’s estate on intestacy, and did not have any interest that was adverse to the estate, such as a claim for dependant support or other relief against the estate. Buttressing this, the court noted that the deceased’s mother was a resident of Quebec, and that s. 5 of the Estates Act prohibits granting letters of administration to a person not residing in Ontario.
As the deceased’s spouse was appointed Estate Trustee, she alone could determine the disposition of the ashes. The mother’s claim for half of the ashes was dismissed.
The deceased’s mother was entitled to be reimbursed for funeral expenses by the estate. The court rejected the argument that the mother had made a gift to the estate of the funeral expenses. To find a valid gift, the court requires i. an intention to make a gift; ii. acceptance of the gift; and iii. a sufficient act of delivery. Here, the first and second points were not present. There was no intention on the part of the mother to make a gift, and prior to appointment by the court, there was no administrator of the estate able to accept the gift.
The court reviewed evidence that the deceased and his brother collected hockey cards together for many years. The cards were originally in possession of the brother, but were then moved to the deceased’s residence as the brother was expecting twins and did not have space to store the cards. There was allegedly a list kept by the deceased as to which cards belonged to whom. However, this list could not be found.
The court ordered that the cards be inspected by the surviving brother. If the list could not be found, then the cards were to be divided between the surviving brother and the deceased’s estate “in a randomized manner”.
In a separate decision, the court addressed the costs of the parties. The surviving spouse claimed costs of $10,133 plus disbursements and HST. In light of the divided success, and an offer to settle made by the spouse, the mother and brother of the deceased were ordered to pay costs to the surviving spouse of $5,000 plus disbursements and HST.
- Make a will (it is, after all, Make A Will Month);
- if you are holding property for someone else, or if someone else is holding property for you, have clear, shared records.
Have a great weekend.