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Stating Your Wishes for the Disposition of Your Remains

Nov. 9, 2021

Couple pining after their relative at funeralMany people underestimate the importance of making final arrangements in advance. Stating your wishes for the disposition of your remains can save your loved ones from additional stress following your passing.

After the death of a loved one, surviving family members must decide what to do with the body. If the deceased person included arrangements for the disposition of last remains in their estate plan, the surviving family members must honor their wishes.

Without an experienced estate planning attorney on your side, it can be challenging to make an estate plan that clearly outlines your final wishes and ensures the proper disposition of your remains after your passing. Attorney Robert Taylor-Manning has the necessary experience to help clients integrate their final wishes into their estate plans. The Northwest Elder Law Center proudly serves clients in Kennewick, Washington, as well as Richland, Pasco, and surrounding areas. Northwest Elder Law Center now also serves clients in Portland, Oregon.

What Is Disposition of Remains?

Disposition of remains refers to a person’s final wishes for what they want their family members to do with their body following death. You can designate a person to enact your decisions or make them for you, under RCW 68.60.160. Many people are not aware that if they do not designate someone, the statute will choose for you. There are several options to choose from when deciding what should happen to your remains. Final arrangements may also detail if the decedent wants a funeral or another type of ceremony following their death.

What Are the Options?

Washington law requires a decedent’s body to be embalmed or refrigerated until burial or cremation takes place. Here are some options for your remains:

  1. Burial. Burial is broken down into two types: in the ground and above ground. In-ground burial refers to a body’s placement into the ground (in most cases, in a casket), while above-ground burial refers to the placement of the body in a small room within the mausoleum. In 2019, Washington permitted "green" burial, which permits a body to compost naturally.

  2. Cremation. An increasing number of Americans opt for cremation as an alternative to traditional burial. According to National Cremation, nearly 70% of Americans are expected to choose cremation by 2030. The process of cremation involves the reduction of the deceased person’s body to bone fragments with the use of intense heat and open flame. After the cremation, the remains are placed in an urn or another container. Cremation may also take the form of alkaline hydrolysis, also known as flameless or water cremation. This type of cremation uses water and alkaline chemicals to accelerate natural decomposition. Turning the ashes resulting from cremation into small mementos is an option for many families, who choose to have a small piece of glass art instead of a nondescript urn.

  3. Whole-body or organ donation. Before burial or cremation, your remains can first be donated to science to save other people. You can donate either your whole body or specific organs after your passing. This is typically only a good option if you live near a medical school, and if your family understands they may not receive the cremated remains back for a year after death.

Can Ashes Be Spread Anywhere
Following Cremation?

Washington law does not have any statutes that would prohibit people from keeping or scattering the ashes of their loved ones. However, many people do not want their ashes to be scattered because of their potentially negative impact on the environment. Scattering ashes – or even cremation itself – releases harmful chemicals into the atmosphere.

If you want your ashes to be spread following cremation, there are several considerations to keep in mind to ensure that your ashes are scattered in compliance with federal and state laws:

  • Private property. You can scatter ashes on your private property. However, you will need permission from the owner of the private property if the property is not yours. For example, Disneyland, which is a popular choice to scatter ashes after death, has strict policies prohibiting people from spreading ashes on its property.

  • Public property. If you want your ashes to be scattered on public or federal property (e.g., a city park), check with city and county regulations to ensure that you are not violating any laws.

  • At sea. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) prohibits people from scattering cremated remains within three nautical miles from shore. You may also want to check other EPA requirements for scattering ashes at sea.

  • In the air. Federal aviation laws prohibit the dropping of any object that might cause injuries to people or damage property. However, ashes scattered in the air are unlikely to cause injuries or damage if the person spreading the ashes does not drop the container.

Disposition of Remains Attorney
in Kennewick, Washington

Attorney Robert Taylor-Manning can assess your goals and wishes for the disposition of your remains. He can advise you on your options and help you draft a legally binding and comprehensive estate that includes your final arrangements. The Northwest Elder Law Center provides legal services to clients in Kennewick, Washington, as well as Portland, Oregon, and surrounding areas.