Society often considers end-of-life planning to be a taboo conversation topic, but death is an inevitable part of life that we all must eventually think about.
With more people making end-of-life arrangements as part of their estate plans, creative ways to be put to rest or to deal with remains have become a trend.
Whether you want to stick with tradition or try a modern method, it’s important to research the feasibility and legality of your burial preference. There are common and statutory laws in the US that prohibit treatments and disposals of human remains that fall outside the categories of burial, entombment, and cremation (so, you may be out of luck if you were hoping for a Tibetan Sky Burial or a Viking Funeral!).
Check out our list of different possibilities for dealing with your remains, and we’ll walk you through some of the legal restrictions that may affect your end-of-life plans. Once you’ve chosen your preferred funeral services, follow our tips for making your final wishes known to your loved ones.
What can I do with my remains?
We’re all familiar with the traditional methods of burying our loved ones in a casket. Less known are the methods that involve fireworks or diamonds. Here are some of the businesses that specialize in creative ways to store, treat, or disperse your remains:
- Become a brilliant firework display: A British company, Heavenly Stars Fireworks, takes remains and uses them in their fireworks for a final, brilliant memorial display.
- Launch your remains into space: You can have Celestis or Elysium Space put your remains on a spacecraft and launch them to the moon or beyond. They also have tracking devices so your loved one can check in on your celestial journey.
- Become a vinyl record: Andvinyly will press your ashes into a vinyl record. You can have it play your favorite tracks or include audio of your own (like you speaking or singing) so that your loved ones can have an auditory memorial of you.
- Get pressed into a diamond: LifeGem creates diamonds with your remains. Many people have the gems socketed into memorial jewelry.
- Freeze yourself: The Cryonics Institute freezes legally dead people in hopes that they might be revived in the future.
Read more: The Basics of End-of-Life Planning
What are some eco-friendly burial options?
Eco-friendly burials return a person’s remains to the environment naturally so that it can participate in the biological cycle of life. These methods are different from traditional burials in a graveyard where bodies are often preserved, encased, and surrounded by concrete.
There are growing concerns that the graveyard tradition contributes to toxic waste pollution and an unneeded consumption of resources. So, some people are looking at green burials to save the environment and honor a lost life at the same time.
Here are some eco-friendly alternatives to a traditional graveyard burial:
- Feed mushrooms: The Infinity Burial Suit is a handcrafted garment laced with a “biomix” of mushroom mycelium and other microorganisms that aid in decomposition. The suit neutralizes toxins found in the body and transfers nutrients from the remains to plant life.
- Become part of a reef: Eternal Reefs and The Neptune Society are companies that use human ashes (cremains) as part of the foundation for man-made reefs in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. The cremains are mixed with concrete and shaped into various forms that eventually become a shelter for sea life.
- Grow into a tree: You can place your cremains in a Bios Urn and your loved ones can watch a beautiful tree emerge over the coming years. The urn is biodegradable, and Bios has a variety of tree species to pick from.
- Become freeze-dried fertilizer: Promessa is a Swedish company that freezes remains using special techniques and converts the remains into powerful plant fertilizer.
Can you scatter ashes or store remains anywhere?
Currently, in the US, there are no federal laws regulating the scattering of ashes. Rather, state governance or municipal bylaws handle this issue. If you’re interested in having your remains scattered or stored in a non-traditional way, research the regulations in the area you’ve chosen to memorialize your life.
Municipalities may grant you a permit for scattering in controlled public areas like gardens and memorial parks, but they often restrict it near water facilities and public ponds. Likewise, open waterways like rivers and lakes are often available for use, but some cities may regulate your ability to put up a plaque or monument in these spaces.
Many jurisdictions do not regulate the scattering of ashes on uncontrolled public land like protected parks and natural landscapes. Still, despite the general lack of regulation, you should use your best judgment and take the environment into account when planning to spread ashes.
Consider how your cremains will integrate into nature: the sandy texture of the ashes may contain bone fragments, making it hard for them to be carried away with the wind. Smooth the process by raking the ashes into the soil or scattering them with flower petals over water.
If you’re considering spreading the ashes from the air, be sure to secure the urn so that it doesn’t become a hazardous object to the people below. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) doesn’t prohibit scattering from aircrafts, but it does have guidelines to prevent unnecessary harm. Usually, pilots must be at a minimum altitude before releasing the ashes.
Can I get buried at sea?
Sea burials are popular because many people feel strong ties to the ocean—seafarers and beachcombers alike.
However, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does set out regulations for leaving human remains at sea: you must get a general permit under the Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act. Special cases, such as disposing of pet remains, may require additional permits.
Other EPA guidelines include:
- Dispose the human remains no closer than three nautical miles to the shoreline.
- Do not throw non-readily decomposable materials, like urns or canisters, into the water.
- If burying non-cremated remains, take measures to ensure the body sinks with no chance of resurfacing.
- Report all sea burials in writing to the EPA within 30 days.
Planning for your funeral
Create an End-of-Life Plan to declare your final wishes about the disposition of your body and any memorialization to be held in your name. You should include a copy of your burial preferences with other estate planning documents, such as your Last Will and Testament. A well-rounded estate plan ensures your appointed representatives have a full understanding of your last wishes.
At the very least, voicing your wishes to your loved ones ensures there won’t be any disagreements about how to lay you to rest when the time comes. Planning in advance gives you the opportunity to explain your decisions and gain some peace of mind.
How do you want to be remembered?
Let your loved ones know your final wishes.