“What Should We Do With The Bodies?” – January 2017

A Great Question to Ask Your Lawyer

Terry Jessop & Bitner Newsletter

Issue 39, January 2017

One of the best questions we’ve heard in recent months is, “What should we do with the bodies?” Fortunately, the question did not come from a mobster. Rather, it was posed in the context of estate planning, i.e., how to dispose of the remains of loved ones. Although ghoulish, the question of what to do with your body when you’re done with it is something to consider for your own peace of mind, and for your family’s as well.

Remains to be Seen

When doing estate planning much thought goes into end-of-life care and the distribution of assets. If the disposition of your body has not been considered, it is typically left to the discretion of your personal representative/executor. In most cases they opt for one of the two most common options: (i) traditional casket burial in a cemetery; or (ii) cremation with the ashes either kept by the family or scattered at a favorite location. But the options for disposition have expanded. There are many other choices for adventurous souls to consider.

For instance, one might altruistically donate their body to science to be studied by medical students and researchers. If you’re lucky you may be chosen for plastination and inclusion in the next Body Worlds. The eco-friendly may be buried under a sapling, or turned into fertilizer through a process called promession. Cryogenics exist for those who hope to be reanimated one day. For history buffs, mummification is also an option. Or, if treasure is your thing, you can turn your ashes into a diamond that can be set into a nice piece of heirloom jewelry.

Get a Leg Up With Estate Planning

Your will should state what to do with your body. But if you choose non-traditional disposition, will your wishes be honored? Is your family bound by your will? The answer is that, in general, so long as your will does not seek to do anything that is against the law or that is infeasible, your wishes will be strictly enforced.

While there is no actual property right with regard to possession of a body, the law recognizes a right to control what happens to it. Utah law provides that the person named in your will as your personal representative/executor has the right to see that any funeral arrangements expressed in your will are carried out. (Utah Code § 75-3-701.) If your request is so extravagant that it cannot be carried out, and your family is unable to agree on what to do, a court may step in and will most likely follow the counsel of the surviving spouse or next of kin.

Let Us Give You a Hand

If you put off making this decision and you pass away without a will, the right to determine what happens with your remains falls to your surviving spouse or closest relative. Ideally, you will have discussed your wishes with those closest to you. If not, your disposition will be up to those you leave behind. This can cause problems. If there are multiple people with equal standing, such as your children if you leave no surviving spouse, and they cannot agree, the court will likely have to determine which of them had the closest relationship to you and let that person decide.

If you do not have a will, or you do but you have decided to change your funeral plans, please contact our office. We can help ensure your wishes are followed.

© Terry Jessop & Bitner January 2017