What Can I Do With My Body After I Die?

You may have heard that Washington just passed a new law that allows human composting (officially called “natural organic reduction”). This law also allows another option called hydro cremation (officially called “alkaline hydrolysis”). This means we now have four options for disposing of our remains in Washington that include: burial, cremation, composting, and hydro cremation. In addition to this you can also allow for organ donation, allow your body to be used for medical research, or donate your body to the University of Washington for teaching purposes for medical students.

With so many options it can be confusing determining what your options are. This Q & A provides some answers to the most common questions.

What options do I have for the final disposition of my remains?

In Washington we now have four options for disposing of human remains:

  1. Burial;
  2. Cremation;
  3. Composting (aka natural organic reduction);
  4. Hydro cremation (aka alkaline hydrolysis).

Can I choose composting or hydro cremation now?

Washington’s law allowing composting or hydro cremation goes into effect in may of 2020. However, you can preemptively choose these options so that if you pass away after May of 2020 your body will be disposed of per your wishes.

How do I Ensure that my Final Wishes are Carried Out?

Once you have decided whether you wanted to be buried, cremated, composted, or hydro cremated you should take steps to make sure your wishes are actually carried out.

Step 1: Place your wishes in writing. If your wishes are not in writing, your family members will have the option to choose how to dispose of your remains. To ensure your wishes are known and carried out you should put your wishes in writing. To do this you can work with an estate planning attorney or contact a pre-paid funeral service who can provide you with the proper forms.

Step 2: Talk to your family. Once you have your wishes in writing, the next step is to talk to your family to explain your wishes and let them know where you keep your written instructions. Unfortunately, it is common for family members to bury someone and then only later after the burial discover that the deceased had created a writing asking to be cremated. Avoid this problem by having a family conversation about your final wishes.

What is the difference between a green burial and human composting?

Green burials and human composting may sound similar, but these are two different options.

Green Burial. A green burial is a form of burial. A green burial typically involves being buried in a casket that will decompose quickly as opposed to a traditional casket. To choose a green burial you would first work with your attorney to draft a written document stating that you wish to be buried. The document should also state that the type of burial you want is a green burial. There are multiple options for green burials and you should contact local funeral homes to determine what options they provide.

Human Composting. Human composting is not a form of burial. Human composting is a process that takes a few months for your body to slowly decompose into soil. This soil is then given to your family in the same way that ashes would be provided to your family after cremation. To choose human composting, you should draft a written document stating your wish to be composted.

What is hydro cremation?

Hydro cremation is a process that uses a water-based solution to rapidly decompose a body. It takes a few hours to complete and the result is similar to that of cremation.

Where can my remains be laid to rest?

Once you have decided whether you would like to be buried, cremated, composted, or hydro cremated, you can decide where you want your final remains to be laid to rest. The simplest option is to leave your remains in a cemetery. However, you can legally request that your remains be placed elsewhere. Washington allows your remains to be placed on private property with permission of the property owner. In addition, your remains can be placed on public property with the permission of the government agency in charge of that public property.

It is a crime to place remains on public or private property without permission. Thus, it is crucial that your family obtain permission before having a ceremony on public or private property. There are many options available for public ceremonies. For example, Washington state ferries allow memorial services where remains may be laid to rest at sea so long as they are scheduled at least five days in advance (for more information visit the Washington state department of transportation website at: https://www.wsdot.wa.gov/Ferries/infodesk/faq/specialOccasions/).

What if I want to donate my organs for transplantation or my body for medical research?

You can donate your body for organ donation or scientific research. Choosing organ donation or to allow scientific research will likely limit your options for the final disposition of your remains. If you donate your body to scientific research, your body will usually be cremated, and the ashes provided to your family. However, in some circumstances your body may not be provided to your family. Before choosing to donate your body, be sure to verify what happens to your remains after the donation to ensure that this is compatible with your wishes.

Organ Donation. If you want your organs to be donated, you must put this in writing before death. You can do this by declaring that you are an organ donor on your driver’s license, or you can write out your instructions that you wish to allow organ donations and sign and date the form.

Scientific Research. You can also donate your body for scientific research. Scientific research is a broad term with many different options you can choose. Some research organizations can use bodies to help develop cures for diseases; you can donate your body to the University of Washington willed body program to help medical students learn; and some groups use bodies for forensic research that can develop techniques to help solve crimes. If you wish to donate your body to scientific research it is important to do your research ahead of time and contact a local organization that accepts bodies. They should be able to work with you to put the proper paperwork in place to ensure your wishes are carried out.o

Your final wishes for the disposition of your remains are an important part of planning for death and can create a legacy for your loved ones. Whether you prefer to be buried in the family plot or be composted and have your remains used as soil to plant a tree, it is important to have the proper legal documents in place and to ensure your family understands your wishes. Planning ahead is the key to ensuring your wishes are carried out.