When considering what to do with your remains, you may think there are only two options - burial or cremation. However, neither option is particularly environmentally friendly.
Burial is arguably the worst option. According to Kelly MacLean in her January 2018 article, 7 Eco-Friendly Options for Your Body after Death, burials use an estimated
Some of that 4.3 million gallons of carcinogenic embalming fluid likely leaks into the earth, polluting our water and soil.
Cremation, often considered the greener option, is not much better. MacLean suggests cremation may consume as much gas and electricity as a 500-mile road trip and may release around 250 pounds of carbon dioxide.
Some nontraditional, eco-friendly burial ideas are:
Aquamation (also known as water cremation or alkaline hydrolysis) - a water-based alternative to traditional cremation has been legalized in about twenty states including Maryland. It uses a solution of water and potassium hydroxide or sodium heated to approximately 350 degrees Fahrenheit. At the end of the process, only the bone matter is left, which can be dried and crushed and given to your loved ones.
Desmond Tutu, the Anglican archbishop, anti-apartheid leader, and environmental advocate, requested aquamation instead of cremation by fire likely because he knew that aquamation uses an estimated 90 percent less energy than cremation by fire. After the aquamation process was complete, his ashes were interred in St. George’s Cathedral in Cape Town, South Africa
Mushroom Burial Sui
Actor Luke Perry, best known for his work on Beverly Hills, 90210 TV series, was buried in a specially made biodegradable mushroom suit after his organs were donated. While this may sound like a quirky celebrity antic, the creator of the mushroom burial suit says the mushroom spores that line this special suit are trained to consume dead human tissue.
Human remains contain toxins that are released into the atmosphere during cremation or through other methods of burial. Mushrooms can absorb and purify these toxins, resulting in a cleaner earth. After breaking down human tissue, the mushrooms conduct the nutrients from the body to fungi in the soil that then pass these nutrients on to trees.
If being buried in a mushroom suit is not your preferred method, you may want to consider a green burial. A green burial is a burial that does not use embalming fluids, toxic chemicals of any kind, or even a gas-guzzling machine to dig the grave. Instead, the green burial ground staff—or even your loved ones themselves—dig the grave by hand. Moreover, by using caskets made from biodegradable materials, such as wicker (and not using a cement burial vault), a green burial allows your body to decompose naturally. Alternatively, the casket can be eliminated completely, and the body can simply be buried in a cloth shroud.
Green burials occur in traditional cemeteries and in new cemeteries such as preservation sites (land trusts and nature preserves).
If you love the ocean, a sea burial may be perfect for you. Sea burials may be a more familiar eco-friendly option, as this method has been used for centuries by Vikings, pirates, and sailors. Today, sea burials may take the form of using a water-soluble urn or submerging a modified casket down to the ocean floor. More environmentally conscious sea burials may use natural burial shrouds or mix the person’s ashes with an eco-friendly concrete that is used to construct artificial reefs that foster aquatic life.
Recomposition, or body composting, is the process of converting human bodies into soil using natural means. The body is placed in a container with a mixture of wood chips, straw, and other organic materials that are then exposed to heat and oxygen to accelerate the decaying process. After about thirty days, the remains decompose into about a cubic yard of soil, which your loved ones can use in their gardens. Unfortunately, if you want to return to Mother Earth in this way, body composting is currently legal in only three states: Colorado, Oregon, and Washington. However, more states are considering legalizing the process, and body composting may soon gain in popularity.
Final Thoughts - Prepayment
Making decisions about the disposition of your remains can be an emotionally stressful experience for your loved ones. In the crisis of your demise, they are less likely to consider these better environmental alternatives. Therefore, you will want to prepay in advance for your funeral and burial arrangements to assist them. You will also want to make sure your preferences are expressed in your estate plan. A good estate plan serves your grieving loved ones and family at the time of your death and as they go on without you.
“Just-in-case” planning means more than packing a rain jacket for your weeklong vacation in the sun . . . Just in case planning includes considering what will happen if one of your loved ones becomes disabled after you completed your estate plan. At the time you completed your estate plan your loved one was not disabled, but after you have completed your estate plan life happens and your loved one is now disabled.
We want to think – for better or worst – that disability affects other people. Facts, however, prove otherwise:
Without a crystal ball to see into the future we, of course, do not know of our own demise nor the wellbeing of our loved ones at the time of our demise. Consequently, the future welfare of your loved ones may depend on whether you have considered the critical question of what will happen if your loved one becomes disabled at a future time.
Things to Know about Disability Benefits
The welfare of a disabled loved one depends on them qualifying for government benefits. More than financial assistance, disability benefits include an array of services available to disabled persons, who are deemed economically eligible. Unfortunately, a monetary gift or inheritance from you may disqualify this loved one from being economically eligible. While the inheritance may replace lost economic assistance, the loss of access to daily services will disrupt their lives in unimaginable ways. If this disruption happens, your well-meaning gift could become more of a curse than a blessing.
Standby Supplemental Needs Trust
To avoid the possibility that a disabled loved one will lose access to the array of disability services because he or she has too much money, you will want to set up a standby supplemental needs trust as part of your estate plan.
A “standby” supplemental needs trust does just what its name implies: the supplemental needs trust is not funded automatically but is on standby. The trust comes into existence (i.e., is funded) only if a beneficiary is disabled at the time of your death or even later. (Some states’ disability eligibility rules permit the trust to spring to life if your loved one becomes disabled later after your death but before the inheritance has been fully distributed.)
If at the time of your demise your loved one is disabled and is receiving disability benefits, the inheritance he or she will receive from you will be adjusted to a distribution in a supplemental needs trust, which will not disqualify your loved one from continued receipt of disability benefits and services. At this point the inheritance now in the supplemental needs trust can be spent on any expense not covered by disability benefits paid for by the government. Thus, the inheritance will supplement the disability benefits, and truly enhance your loved one’s life without disrupting the benefits and services they already receive.
Final Thought. Since you do not know whether the loved one whom you are leaving an inheritance will become disabled, then your estate plan should include supplemental needs trust provisions. If you do have these standby supplemental needs trust provisions in your estate plan – and you need them – then it will take more time and even more money to correct the problem. However, if it the standby supplemental needs trust is not ever needed (i.e., no one actually becomes disabled), then this trust will never be funded. So you should be sure to include the standby supplemental needs trust provisions in your estate plan—just in case.
How Including a Pour-Over Trust Can Simplify Your Planning
Some couples, married and unmarried, think about their accounts and property as “yours, mine, and ours,” especially if one or both of them have been (or will remarry), are coupling late in life, or have brought (or will bring) significant amounts of money and property into the relationship.
Deciding what should happen to this joint property at death can be an uncomfortable challenge. To alleviate some of the stress that comes from making such decisions, we can make use of an estate planning tool called the pour-over trust.
What is a joint pour-over trust?
A joint pour-over trust holds the joint property belonging to the two of you such as your home. You can create the joint trust together and name yourselves as the current trustees. When the first of you passes away, half of the joint trust’s accounts and property is distributed (pours over) to the deceased spouse’s separate trust, and the other half is distributed to the survivor’s separate trust.
Does this mean that we will need three trusts?
For the estate plan to work as intended, you may indeed need three (3) trusts.
What are some other benefits of a joint pour-over trust
Ease in funding the trust. A joint pour-over trust readily reflects the underlying economics of joint accounts and property because both of you own and control it. While two people as individuals can jointly own an account, some financial institutions may NOT allow those same two people to own the account by means of their separate trusts. This institutional resistance to two-separate-trusts ownership can derail your planning and leave the survivor of you with all the wealth - which neither of you intended.
Ease of administration. The joint trust allows for ease of lifetime administration because both of you retain control over your joint property.
Probate avoidance. Avoiding the unnecessary expense and interference of probate courts has fueled the popularity of trust-based planning. If your joint accounts and property are in the joint trust, probate will absolutely be avoided because the trust instructions will dictate what happens to the accounts and property. Your chosen backup trustee will carry out the instructions without the delay and expense of court supervision.
Keeping things separate. Allocating your joint property to the joint pour-over trust will serve you well if your priority is to keep your separate accounts and property forever separate. If your separate accounts and property are titled in your separate individual trust then this framework will increase the likelihood of your trust being administered as you wish after you are gone. For example, if one of you have children from a prior relationship or are caring for family members on "your side" then this planning can be vital to ensure your money is there to support them after you are gone. All too often these accounts are titled jointly for "convenience sake" and result in either disinheriting your children (or dependent family members) or embroiling the survivor of you in protracted disputes and even litigation with the adult children. Therefore, in these circumstances, you absolutely want to make sure your separate property is titled in your separate individual trust and having your joint property in the joint pour-over trust establishes a consistency that enables keeping your separate property separate.
If your situation resembles "yours, mine and ours" then the tools of your estate plan should reflect that to ensure that your estate planning goals are achieved. Working together, we can assess what you own and how you own it and discuss your wishes about what should happen to those accounts and property at your death. Call us today so we can craft a plan that works best for you, your spouse, and the rest of your loved ones.