You’re likely familiar with the Christian burial phrase “ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” While that phrase has been recited over graves for centuries, it may need changing in Washington state. With the green light given to the composting of human remains, “dust to dirt” may be a more appropriate way of putting it.
A new path for human remains
The Washington state law allowing the composting of human remains will take effect in May of 2020. It means that, in addition to cremation or burial, a body can now be composted naturally into soil.
Like all composting, it’s a simple and natural process. The body is covered in a natural material, like straw or wood chips. Over the course of several weeks, the body breaks down into soil. Families are free to visit the complex during this process. When the composting is finished, the soil is given to the family and they can do with it as they please.
Environmental friendly – and cost effective
While composting won’t be an option for everyone, it will certainly appeal to those who want a cost-effective, environmentally-friendly option for disposing of their remains at death.
For instance, there are no air quality concerns that can come with cremation, and composting doesn’t use up valuable tracks of land the way a cemetary can. In fact, the process actually “creates” land by adding more soil to the world.
And cost-wise, the woman who spearheaded the move to allow composting – Katrina Spade, CEO of Recompose – estimates that the approximate cost of composting (US$5,500) will be just below the cost of cremation, and far less than a burial.
Are we ready Canada?
The composting of human remains makes sense on many levels, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see this practice spreading to other jurisdictions, including Canada. It may not be for everyone, but it’s hard to see a downside.
This CNN article and short video provide some more context to the adoption of human remains composting in Washington state.
Thanks for reading … Have a wonderful day,
It is that time of the year when media outlets release their “top” or “most popular” lists, like the Time 100.
I came across a rather interesting and topical list the other day called “The Most Obnoxious Celebrity Wills” by Ranker. This particular list features 24 celebrity Wills and I will excerpt some of the notable mentions here:
- Napoleon Bonaparte’s Will was first on the list. Apparently, his Will included a direction for his head to be shaved and for his hair to be divided amongst his friends.
- Harry Houdini asked his wife to hold an annual séance to contact his spirit.
- Philip Seymour Hoffman wanted his son to be raised in three different cities: New York, Chicago, and San Francisco.
- Charles Dickens gave directions for a particular dress code at his funeral.
- Fred Baur, the person who designed the Pringles can, wanted to buried in a Pringles can.
Turns out testamentary freedom is whatever you want to make of it but the enforceability of provisions like these are another matter.
Thanks for reading and Happy Holidays!
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!
When a person dies, loved ones generally attend to the burial and memorial preparations without any thought as to who this responsibility falls upon and who has ultimate decision-making power. Where a dispute arises as to the how to say one’s final goodbyes, however, the courts are ready to provide an answer.
Courts have long held that the right to determine how a body is disposed of falls upon the estate trustee of the deceased’s estate. This right arises because the estate trustee is under a duty to ensure the deceased’s body is disposed of in a manner suitable to the estate left behind by the deceased. With this duty comes the corresponding right to possess the body for the purposes of burial. This right comes in priority of the right of spouses, children and other loved ones to decide how to dispose of the body.
For anyone who is in the process of preparing their wills, they hopefully give some thought and consideration as to the suitability of their chosen estate trustee. Ideally, they’ll ensure that their estate trustee is someone:
- likely to outlive the testator;
- willing to take on the task of administering an estate; and
- who will diligently bring all assets into the estate and attend to their distribution.
Testators may want to give some consideration for how the estate trustee will dispose of their body after death as well. This is particularly so as the disposition of one’s body is not something that one can validly provide for in a will (Williams v Williams (1882) 20 Ch D 659 (Eng Ch Div)). Hence, once deceased, testators are in the hands of the estate trustee, so to speak. Where a testator has any concerns that loved ones might fight over burial plans, then some further thought should be given to choosing an estate trustee who will act in accordance with the wishes of the testator.
Unfortunately, disputes over the burial of remains do come up. We’ve blogged on a few of these cases in the past, including the case of legendary soul singer, James Brown and the case of Leo Johnston, a slain RCPM officer in Alberta.
For anyone concerned about it, they may take some small amount of comfort in knowing that once in the ground, courts will be extremely cautious in disturbing a deceased’s (hopefully) final resting place (see, for example, Mason v Mason, 2017 NBQB 132).
Thanks for reading!
An estate trustee has the legal authority to arrange the place and manner of the burial or cremation of the deceased. The estate trustee also has a duty to see that the deceased is buried in a suitable manner and that no undue expense is incurred. Where a person dies without a will, and an administrator has not yet been appointed by the court, the deceased’s next of kin may direct the manner of burial or cremation. In some cases, the deceased may have made arrangements for a funeral and pre-paid for their own burial or cremation. There are certain statutory and common law consumer protections in regard to the procurement of funeral services.
Burial and cremation services are governed by the Funeral, Burial and Cremation Services Act, 2002. Pursuant to s.42(1), a purchaser of internment rights, defined in s. 1 as “the right to require or direct the interment of human remains in a lot”, may cancel the contract at any time within 30 days after the contract was made. The operator must fully refund all money received upon notice of cancellation. A cemetery operator will be unable to enforce a contract unless it meets the formal requirements set out in the regulations.
Contract law also provides certain protections to those purchasing funeral or burial services. In the recent case of Tsekhman v Spero, the Court held that contracts for funeral and interment services are contracts for “peace of mind”. A breach of contract, therefore, can result in damages for mental suffering. In this case, the Court found that a delay in fulfilling the contract for burial prejudiced the Plaintiffs’ ability to abide by their Jewish laws and customs and to honour their parents’ wishes. The court held damages for loss of peace of mind in a contract case such as this one should be modest.
Thank you for reading … enjoy the rest of your day!
Other articles you might enjoy:
Shortly after a death, the Estate Trustee is called upon to make important decisions about the funeral and burial arrangements for the deceased.
In many instances, the deceased’s Last Will and Testament may provide instructions to the Estate Trustee regarding the funeral or the burial. However, such wishes regarding burial and funeral arrangements are precatory and not binding on the Estate Trustee. Generally speaking, while it is advisable for an Estate Trustee to consider the wishes of the deceased and his or her next-of-kin when making decisions about the funeral and the burial, the Estate Trustee’s authority to make such decisions is only constrained by a legal duty to dispose of the remains in a dignified manner.
While the authority to make these decisions is fairly straightforward where a deceased person leaves a Will naming an Estate Trustee, conflicts between family members can arise when the deceased dies intestate. This was recently illustrated by the Honourable Justice Smith’s decision in Catto v Catto, 2016 ONSC 3025.
In Catto, the Deceased died after less than a year of marriage to his spouse, Donna. Donna made arrangements for the Deceased’s funeral and burial in his hometown of LaColle, Quebec. However, before the Deceased’s ashes could be buried in his family’s plot in Quebec, Donna advised the funeral director that she wished to transport the ashes back to Peterborough. The funeral director advised Donna that the Deceased’s place of burial was ultimately her decision, and Donna decided to have the ashes interred in Peterborough without notice to any of the Deceased’s family members.
The Deceased’s mother subsequently brought an Application, alleging that the Deceased had wished to be buried in the family plot in Quebec and that Donna had agreed to the Deceased’s burial in the family plot. The Deceased’s mother sought Orders that the Deceased’s ashes be exhumed and that half of the ashes be returned to the family plot. As the Deceased had died without a Will, she also sought an Order appointing her as the Deceased’s Estate Trustee.
Where a person dies intestate, section 29 of the Estates Act gives the Court the discretion to appoint the spouse or common law partner, the next-of-kin, or both the spouse and the next-of-kin as the Estate Trustee. Justice Smith confirmed that section 29 does not confer a priority to the spouse to be appointed as Estate Trustee.
However, in the circumstances, given that the Deceased’s mother lived outside Ontario, that Donna was the sole beneficiary of the Deceased’s Estate, and that there was no potential conflict of interest with her appointment as Estate Trustee, Justice Smith concluded that the administration of the Deceased’s Estate should be committed to his spouse.
Thus, Justice Smith held that “[t]he decision on where the deceased is to be buried and the manner of burial is a right that is granted to the administrator of the Estate which in this case, is his wife Donna.” The relief sought by the Deceased’s mother with respect to the exhumation and reburial of the Deceased’s ashes was denied.
The Catto decision highlights the conflicts that can emerge on an intestacy, and serves as a reminder of the importance of making a Will: although the testator may not be able to dictate the terms of his or her funeral and burial, he or she may be able to minimize the conflict and acrimony over who has the authority to make these decisions by simply naming an Estate Trustee.
Thank you for reading,
Umair Abdul Qadir
Ever dream of being an astronaut? If you were not one in life fear not, there is still the chance that you can travel in space after your death. According to a Toronto Star article by Nicole Baute, it would appear that when it comes to burial possibilities, the sky is not the limit.
Celestis Inc. is a company co-founded by commercial space age pioneer Charles Chafer that specializes in “Memorial Spaceflights”. The ashes are placed in aluminum capsules inside a Celestis spacecraft, which is a small cylinder that hitches a ride on a rocket heading elsewhere. The spacecraft breaks away from the rocket once it is deep in space and then orbits the earth for anywhere from a few years to several hundred years, depending on how far into space it goes. Solar wind and the natural degradation of the orbit eventually pull the spacecraft back into the earth’s atmosphere, where it incinerates like a meteor upon contact. The cost is anywhere from $695 to $12,500 $US.
If space travel isn’t for you, Baute reports on other unconventional options. Perhaps you would like to have your ashes pressed into a vinyl record for family and friends (the sound quality is a little scratchy and you might have to supply the turntable) or even an attractive paper weight. Those who are concerned about the environment can have themselves composted. As for me, I think I’d like to be turned into a diamond.
Considering all the burial options out there, with a little imagination, you can go to infinity and beyond!
Sharon Davis – Click here for more information on Sharon Davis.
Lonnie Holloway of Saluda, South Carolina was recently buried sitting upright in the front seat of his 1973 Pontiac Catalina.
According to the New York Times report (there is a video link, too), the 90 year old, described by a cousin as a “stylin’ and profilin’” man, had always said that he had wanted to be buried that way. He was also buried with his gun collection. He had said that he didn’t want them falling into the wrong hands.
The expressed wishes of the deceased raise a number of interesting issues to consider. Some immediate include:
- Whether the directive regarding the means of burial is binding on the Estate Trustee. The rule is that directions contained in a deceased’s will are not binding on an executor. Additionally, an estate trustee is only allowed to recover reasonable burial expenses from the estate, taking into account the deceased’s position in life.
- In Canada, there are restrictions that would intervene with respect to the disposal of weapons.
- Will a Will that calls for the destruction of property be enforceable? In Wishart Estate (1992), 46 E.T.R. 311, the deceased left a will that called for the shooting of his four horses. The court found that the direction was void as being against public policy. In that case, the court referred to a Missouri Court of Appeals decision where a term in a will calling for the demolition of the deceased’s house was, similarly, found to be void as being in violation of public policy.
Have a great weekend. Keep your eyes on the road and your hands upon the wheel.
Paul Trudelle – Click here for more information on Paul Trudelle.
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Earlier this month, Elsie Poncher posted on eBay her late husband’s crypt for sale. The unique feature about the crypt is its location directly above the crypt of Hollywood icon, Marilyn Monroe in Westwood Village Memorial Park cemetery. Mrs. Poncher decided to sell the valuable crypt and move her husband’s remains to another part of the cemetery in order pay the $1.6 million mortgage on her Beverly Hills home.
Last week, someone purchased the crypt with a winning bid of $4.6 million. That bid has since fallen through with the bidder unable to pay but there were a number of other multi-million dollar bids which may now become the winning bid.
In Ontario, the Cemeteries Act
prohibits the private resale of burial plots or crypts. When someone purchases a burial plot, they receive interment rights in perpetuity, not property rights. The property rights belong to the cemetery and if required, transfer to a third party requires the consent of the cemetery and the cemetery maintains the right to buy back the interment rights.
However, in the United States many states do not have similar legislation and some suggest that the reselling of burial plots have increased in recent economic times .
Thanks for Reading,
Diane Vieira – Click here for more information on Diane Vieira.
I recently came across an article which suggests that Do-It-Yourself (D-I-Y) funerals are an emerging trend in the United States. The article charts the growth of the home funeral movement in the last two decades.
A D-I-Y home funeral can mean many things. A family member may want to build the casket, hold a visitation at home, and they may even want to prepare the body for viewing. The D-I-Y movement provides information on the different state laws and guides family members in the completion of the related forms.
Fuelled by economic concerns, an increased desire to personalized funerals, and the ecology movement which discourages the use of embalming chemicals, some families are investigating this option.
Comparing the D-I-Y home funeral movement to the home birth movement, some advocates suggest that professional services disassociate family members from the grieving process and a return to a home funeral results in a more meaningful experience.
Not sold on the merits of preparing your loved one’s body for viewing and burial? Max Alexander has written a touching piece on his experience with a home funeral and a regular funeral. Alexander’s father and father–in-law died in the same month. While his father had a traditional funeral, his father-in-law had a home funeral. Despite all the paperwork involved, Alexander favours the home funeral approach.
In Ontario, funerals are heavily regulated but it is not illegal to prepare a family member for burial and cremation without the assistance of a funeral home as long as you are in compliance with all relevant regulations. However, in order to comply with all regulations and obtain the proper paperwork, funeral directors are an invaluable source. Further, funeral homes are adapting to the requests of families by accepting homemade caskets and preparing bodies for viewings held at a private home.
And remember that the D-I-Y funeral movement does not include D-I-Y burials and cremations; some things have to be left to the professionals.
Enjoy your (long) weekend!