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,
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,
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:
A co-worker recently passed along this ESPN article chronicling the storied life of Ted Williams, arguably one of the greatest baseball players to have ever played the game. While I must admit that my love for sports stems from hockey and the beautiful game of soccer, as Estates lawyers, my co-worker and I were drawn to the issues surrounding the Last Will of Ted Williams and his burial wishes.
According to this Daily Mail article, Williams executed a Last Will and Testament in 1996 apparently indicating that he wanted to have his body cremated and his ashes sprinkled around his Florida Keys fishing grounds “…where the water is very deep”.
Notwithstanding the contents of Williams’ Last Will, it appears that some of his children approved the decision to have Williams cryogenically frozen. It seems that the motivation in part was a result of the vast amount of literature read by Williams’ son including The Prospect of Immortality which promotes that the “freezer always trumped the grave”. In addition, after his passing, his children produced a note signed by Williams and dated November 2, 2000 that his children “…and Dad all agree to be put into bio-statis after we die. This is what we want, to be able to be together in the future, even if it is only a chance”. Nonetheless, it remains unclear as to what Williams actually wanted.
Upon the passing of Williams, his body was flown to a cryogenics facility where Williams head ($50,000) and body ($120,000) were separately frozen and stored.
As a result of these actions, one of Williams children commenced a petition seeking the return of her father’s body to comply with the wishes set out in the Last Will. This claim was later withdrawn and to this day, Williams body remains frozen.
At this point, any Ontario Estates lawyer is probably reminding themselves that in Ontario, burial instructions in a Last Will are merely wishes and not binding. As a refresher, see this Hull & Hull blog with respect to the burial decisions surrounding Nelson Mandela.
Also of interest, it appears that Williams created an insurance trust for the benefit of his children only to be paid on the 10th anniversary of his death. This trust has now been dissolved.
In estate litigation, it is not uncommon to deal with issues regarding human remains. People may be fighting over remains, a person’s remains may need to be transported, and so on.
In the Canadian film “Highway 61”, a Canadian barber/would be jazz musician finds a frozen corpse in his backyard, and agrees to accompany a roadie who claims the dead man as her brother to the United States. Meanwhile, the roadie actually intends to use the body to smuggle drugs to the United States. Clearly, this would constitute an extreme violation of any number of statutes.
But how about transporting remains via post or courier? Does one commit a faux pas by transmitting remains this way? While Canada Post will ship cremated remains, Canada Post’s Priority Worldwide service refuses to ship “human corpses, human organs or body parts, cremated or disinterred human remains”. Purolator refuses to ship remains to domestic or U.S. destinations. Internationally, the easiest way to transport remains is to hire a service which will fly the remains out of the country, or you can fly with them yourself. In conclusion, shipping remains by mail is safe to do within Canada (although not by Purolator); just do not cross the border unless you’re willing to have someone take a plane trip with the remains of the deceased.
Sarah Halsted – Click Here For More Information About Sarah Halsted
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!
Listen to becoming an executor after death.
This week on Hull on Estates, Ian Hull and Suzana Popovic-Montag, discuss becoming an executor after death and three issues that must be addressed immediately.