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Person holding the hand of a deceased person on a hospital bed

Your Options for the Disposition of
Your Remains

Law Office of Robert L. Firth July 19, 2022

We’re all familiar with the need to leave directions in a will for the care of our loved ones when we pass away, but we often tend to overlook how we wish for our remains to be disposed of, probably because it’s a sensitive and uncomfortable subject. 

California law indicates that your wishes for the disposition of your body must be in writing. Otherwise, someone else will have to decide, often family members or executors of your estate. 

There are several written vehicles that are recognized in California through which to express your wishes for the disposition of your body, but the law is clear that your preference must be in writing. In short, planning for the disposition of your remains – as touchy a subject as it is – should be part of the estate planning process.

If you’re looking to create estate planning documents to care for your loved ones and voice your choices for the future in or around Cathedral City, California, contact us at the Law Office of Robert L. Firth.

We provide compassionate and comprehensive estate planning services to all Californians, including Spanish-speaking individuals and members of the LGBTQ+ community. I proudly serve clients in Palm Springs, Palm Desert, Desert Hot Springs, Rancho Mirage, and throughout the Coachella Valley.

Making Your Disposition Choices Clear

As noted above, California law requires that you put in writing how you want your remains to be disposed of. This can be as simple as a separate document in which you spell out your choices, but there are three major methods that are usually used for this purpose:

A LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT: Your will can certainly be used to spell out your choices. The provisions you outline in your will must be followed even if the overall will itself and its validity are challenged in probate court. The one possible downside here is that your remains may be disposed of before the will even reaches probate court.

ADVANCE HEALTHCARE DIRECTIVE: An advance healthcare directive names a healthcare agent to carry out your wishes should you become incapacitated and unable to voice your own decisions regarding treatment. In the directive, you can also express how your remains should be disposed of when you pass away.

CONTRACTS WITH THIRD PARTIES: You can also contract with a funeral home or memorial society for the disposition of your remains. These organizations generally have forms you can fill out.

Options for Disposal of Your Remains

The basic options for the disposition of your remains involve burial, entombment, or cremation.

Burial involves placing the body in a casket and burying the casket in a cemetery plot. Usually, there is also a gravestone marker placed above the in-ground casket. Some religions require the body to be buried without a casket.

Above-ground entombment involves purchasing a crypt at a mausoleum in which the body can be placed.

Cremation is disposing of the body through intense heat and then retaining the ashes in an urn, which is returned to the family or loved ones. Opting for cremation also involves deciding what to do with the ashes. If you wish to have your ashes dispersed at sea or over land, federal and state laws dictate how, if, and when this can be done.

Disneyland is a popular desired destination for spreading cremated ashes, but the park has strict laws against the act and will swiftly remove violators. If you wish to spread ashes at sea, the federal Clean Water Act dictates that it be done at least three nautical miles from shore. If you wish to scatter ashes in a state park or federal reserve, you must first obtain permission.

Another form of cremation is known as alkaline hydrolysis, also known as water cremation. This process involves using pressure, heat, and lye to reduce the body to a liquid form. This is said to be more ecologically friendly. Advocates of this method point out that traditional cremation, which relies on natural gas, releases carbon dioxide and other gasses into the environment.

In your will, advance healthcare directive, or other document, you can also direct that your whole body be donated for medical research or police purposes or that your vital organs be harvested to save the lives of others.

Disposition of Remains Attorney in Cathedral City, California

You’re never too young or too old to begin the estate planning process, but you can be too late. The pandemic should have taught us that the unexpected can throw our lives into turmoil without warning at any moment. Therefore, don’t wait but get your properly-executed estate planning documents in place now.

An important part of your estate plan should include instructions on how your remains should be disposed of. If you reside in or around Cathedral City, California, contact me at the Law Office of Robert L. Firth to begin the process of comprehensive estate planning to give you and your loved ones ultimate peace of mind.