Planning Your Life Is Not Enough

I have often written about having a life plan. I even have a nice infographic about Stages of Life Planning (on my website

Estate Planning is about having a life plan and yes, it is also about having things in place in the event of your demise. It is about having a plan for the now, the future and the inevitable end- of- life wishes. (See my article “Our Death Denying Culture”)

Thus, when an article came across my computer about Cryonics (cryogenics)– I naturally wanted to know more about the topic of ‘life extension’. Keep in mind that this article is not about religious beliefs, or ethics or the belief of an afterlife. Rather it is taken from an estate planning perspective.

I set my researcher to learn about the various methods that individuals use for dealing with the disposition of our bodily remains and in the process we found various (and some rare) methods that humanity has devised. (These do not include the ancient ones of mummification or the Viking Burial).

Burial – in ground or in crypt – still perhaps the most common in our society of handling the body remains after death. There is a ‘comfort zone’ of knowledge about the process and the religious rituals surrounding burial/grieving/honoring of a loved one. Many relevant options of pre-planned funerals and burial plots are offered. But even this can become contentious if the ‘where’ of the burial is not specified in the will.

Cremation – becoming more common in our society. The retention/disposition of ashes should best be addressed in the will. Is there a family plot? Who in the family will retain the urn/ashes? Is there a wish to ‘scatter’ the ashes? Where?

Burial at sea (Ocean Burial) – previously reserved for Armed Forces, but an alternative for some. According to my research: By international law, the captain of any ship has the authority to conduct an official burial service at sea. However, There are specific regulations: for example- the body must be a set number of nautical miles from shore and in a specific depth, therefore burial at sea requires thoughtful planning/knowledge/experience to follow the deceased wishes.

Cryonics (cryopreservation)– previously reserved for the very wealthy, but now becoming more common. In its simplest explanation it involves the ‘freezing’ of the body immediately at death. There are hefty costs involved, not only in the process, but also of retaining the remains in the ‘suspended’ state. These financial obligations  should be addressed in the Will and estate plan.

Remains sent into space – again an alternative. It is costly and again financial factors need to be addressed in the will and estate plan.

Tibetan sky burial (jahtor) – this method involves exposure to the elements and is rare in our society. It is also not readily available, thus the will and estate plan must be precise as to the ‘how’ of achieving jahtor.

Donation of body to research/teaching/hospital facility – the remains are usually later interred or cremated by the institution. Also, family members be made aware of donation of organs (in case of sudden death)

Green burial (also known as natural burial or eco-friendly burial) – the deceased body is buried in a manner that does not inhibit decomposition and a bio-degradable casket is used. This funerary practice is on the rise in our society as a way to a more simple approach to death. A few cemeteries are setting aside green burial spaces. “As baby boomers head toward retirement and the great hereafter, they’re thinking more about what will become of their remains. And what they’re thinking is what they’ve thought during every phase of life:…” (The Washington Post by Ellen McCarthy. Oct. 6, 2014. “Green burials on the rise…”)

What do these funeral arrangements have to do with the Estate Planning process you might ask? When you prepare your will and estate plan you will most probably give directives about your end- of- life wishes. If you, like the majority of my clients, choose either burial or cremation for disposition of your mortal remains, then family members and loved ones will be within their ‘comfort zone’ of information.

If you choose one of the less familiar alternative methods, you may wish to not only be very clear and specific about your directives, but also consider documenting the personal reason for your choice. It will help loved ones understand and accept your decision.

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About Attorney Barbara Ann Dalvano

Attorney in Denver, Colorado with extensive practice experience in the areas of Estate Planning, Wills and Trusts, Business Succession Planning, Probate, Contract Law.

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