Outlining your wishes for burial and funeral arrangements is one of the most personal things that can be included in your estate plan. Many take the time to outline their wishes for burial or cremation. But recently, New York has legalized a relatively new form of disposition of remains often referred to as human composting.
What Is Human Composting?
Human composting is the colloquial term for natural organic reduction. This process turns human remains into soil. That soil is returned to the earth and used to enrich soil health. This process reduces carbon emissions caused by traditional burial and cremation methods.
How Does It Work?
Family members whose loved ones have chosen to have their bodies disposed of this way can expect a process that contains the following steps:
- The deceased’s body is put into a steel container along with alfalfa, wood chips, and straw.
- Through the application of heat and oxygen, the decomposition of the remains is sped up, leaving nutrient-rich soil.
- Throughout the process of decomposition, the contents of the steel container are blended to ensure that bone fragments are crushed and become a part of the soil.
- Any medical devices or inorganic materials (e.g., breast implants, pacemakers, etc.) are removed from the final soil product.
- The family may choose to have their loved one’s remains returned to them, or they may donate the soil to a conservation organization.
According to the National Funeral Directors Association, the cost of traditional final arrangements has risen over the past several years. In 2021, the nationwide median cost of a funeral with viewing and cremation services was $6,970, and the median cost of a funeral with a viewing and burial was $7,848. Nationwide data does not yet exist for the median costs of natural organic reduction.
Ensuring Your Wishes Are Followed
Regardless of whether you are contemplating natural organic reduction or prefer a more traditional burial or cremation, it is important to set forth your wishes in writing so that your family can follow them.
An advance directive can document your desires regarding what happens to your remains after death. You can choose a person to act as your agent to handle the disposition of your remains. You can provide your agent with your funeral wishes along with the power to oversee the arrangements. If you have not chosen an agent, New York law provides that your closest living relative, starting with a surviving spouse, has this authority. This can be problematic if, for example, a person is in a second or later marriage and would like an adult child to have authority over the remains. Also, if person is not survived by a spouse but has multiple surviving children, the handling of the remains can be disputed especially if the children do not get along or there is an estrangement.
Wills may contain provisions describing desired funeral arrangements. However, wills are not the best place for funeral arrangements, as family members often read wills after the funeral.
If you want to make sure your estate plan covers your wishes for the disposition of remains, contact the attorneys at Kurre Schneps LLP to discuss how we can help.