Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

Editor: Gerry W. Beyer
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

A Member of the Law Professor Blogs Network

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Funeral Homes and DNA Storage Services

TesttubeSome funeral homes are beginning to offer DNA storage services. Having the DNA extracted from the deceased and securely stored for up to 15 years will be available soon from a Beaufort County, South Carolina funeral home for roughly $575. These services are intended to address issues that necessitate DNA testing that may arise after a person's death, such as discovering family medical history or paternity testing.

See Traci Washington, Funeral Homes in Beaufort to Offer DNA Storage, CBS 3 Springfield, Oct. 10, 2014.

October 21, 2014 in Death Event Planning, Estate Administration | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, October 13, 2014

Death with Dignity: Brittany Maynard's Story

Brittany maynard 2

After months of suffering from debilitating headaches, 29-year-old Brittany Maynard learned she had brain cancer. 

Brittany’s life evolved into one consisting of hospital stays, doctor consultations, and medical research.  Only nine days after her initial diagnoses, she had a partial craniotomy and partial resection of her temporal lobe in order to halt the growth of her tumor. 

Not long thereafter, Brittany learned that her tumor returned in a more aggressive form.  Doctors gave her a prognosis of six months to live.  After researching treatments and talking to family members, Brittany concluded that there was no treatment that would save her life. 

Although Brittany considered passing away in hospice care, she would have suffered for weeks or months.  Upon researching death with dignity, an end of life option for mentally competent, terminally ill patients with a prognosis of six or less months to live, Brittany decided using medical practice to aid in dying was the best option for her and her family. 

Brittany and her family moved to Oregon, where death with dignity is legal.  After obtaining the medicine, Brittany states, “I have experienced a tremendous sense of relief . . . Having this choice at the end of my life has become incredibly important.  It has given me a sense of peace during a tumultuous time that otherwise would be dominated by fear, uncertainty, and pain.  Now I’m able to move forward in my remaining days or weeks I have on this beautiful Earth, to seek joy and love and to spend time traveling to outdoor wonders of nature with those I love.  And I know that I have a safety net.”

See Brittany Maynard, My Right to Death with Dignity at 29, CNN, Oct. 10, 2014.

October 13, 2014 in Current Affairs, Death Event Planning, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Green Burials Gaining Popularity


Jay Castano knows that when he dies, he wants to be wrapped in a shroud and put straight into the earth.  “They can call it a Chipotle funeral.  They can wrap me up and throw me there and cover me up with some grass and soil.”  Although the 65-year-old has no intention to die soon, he does plan to become part of the “green burial” movement, which is a push to strip away the trappings of the modern funeral industry and get back to basics.  “I want to be part of a tree, be part of a flower—go back to being part of the earth,” he says. 

As many baby boomers head towards retirement and thereafter, they want something different, “something that not many other people are doing.”  While there are no firm statistics on how many natural burials take place, a 2008 survey by a funeral industry researcher found that 43 percent of respondents would consider having an eco-friendly burial. 

In recent years, green burials has seen a wave of entrepreneurs offering imaginative options for those who choose cremation: a biodegradable urn that contains a seed so a tree will grow from the ashes, a Chicago company that turns human ashes into diamonds; a British firm that presses ashes into vinyl records; and a field of Etsy vendors who will turn your loved ones into glass art or canvas painting. 

See Ellen McCarthy, ‘Green Burials’ Are on the Rise As Baby Boomers Plan for Their Future, and Funerals, The Washington Post, Oct. 6, 2014.

Special thanks to Naomi Cahn (Harold H. Greene Professor of Law, George Washington University School of Law) for bringing this article to my attention.

October 11, 2014 in Death Event Planning, Elder Law, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Fire at Virginia Crematorium

FireA crematorium in Virginia caught fire on Wednesday, as a result of a 500-pound body being cremated. The size of the body resulted in body fat going up a smoke stack, which caught the roof on fire. It took firefighters 30 minutes to put out the blaze at Southside Cremation Services. Fortunately, there were no injuries.


See WBTW News Staff, 500 Lb Body Sparks Large Fire at Crematory in Va., WSPA, Oct. 8, 2014.

Special thanks to Brian Cohan (Attorney at Law, Law Offices of Brian J. Cohan, P.C.) for bringing this article to my attention.

October 11, 2014 in Current Events, Death Event Planning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Article on Iowans' Right to Direct Disposition of their Bodily Remains

Iowa legislature

Timothy J. Farmer (University of Iowa College of Law) recently published an article entitled, Don’t Die in Iowa: Restoring Iowans’ Right to Direct Final Disposition of their Bodily Remains (Sept. 2, 2014), Iowa Law Review, Forthcoming.  Provided below is the abstract from SSRN:

Iowa has long been a bastion of support for a decedent’s right to control disposition of her remains. In early 2013, the Iowa Supreme Court made an unprecedented move when it interpreted Iowa’s Final Disposition Act as entirely eliminating that right — even when a decedent repeatedly and incontrovertibly expresses her wishes. This Note argues that the Iowa Legislature did not intend this result, and proposes two modifications to the Act that can both facilitate the Act’s purpose and restore the decedent’s right to direct disposition of her remains. First, this Note proposes that the Iowa Legislature modify the Act to require funeral directors to provide their clients with resources that will help them ensure that survivors honor the client’s wishes regarding final disposition. Second, this Note proposes that the Iowa Legislature modify the Act to include a presumption, rebuttable by clear and convincing evidence, that the person entitled to control disposition of a decedent’s remains acts in accordance with the decedent’s wishes.

September 27, 2014 in Articles, Death Event Planning, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, September 19, 2014

Cemetery Utilizes Technology to Create Interactive Experience

CemeteryCemeteries can be more than simply a place to bury our dead and mourn, but also a place of educational value and cultural growth. The Arnos Vale Cemetery in Bristol filled the role of a community park and offered activities such as yoga lessons and walking paths. Then they added technology and created an interactive way for visitors to honor the dead, which resulted in Future Cemetery.  Future Cemetery utilizes multimedia to create an interactive environment, including projection, audio, guided tours through phone applications, and live reenactments. View a video of Future Cemetery’s use of technology here.

See Plus Aziz, How Will we Mourn the Dead in the Future?, PSFK, Sept. 16, 2014.

Special thanks to Brian Cohan (Attorney at Law, Law Offices of Brian J. Cohan, P.C.) for bringing this article to my attention.

September 19, 2014 in Death Event Planning, Estate Planning - Generally, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A Funeral Home's Own Drive-Thru

Drive thru funeral

A funeral home in Saginaw, Michigan has added an unusual feature for mourners.  The Paradise Funeral Chapel installed a drive-thru viewing window that displays a body set up in a special area inside the building with a raised and tilted platform for the casket. 

Curtains automatically open when a car pulls up and mourners are allotted three minutes to view a body as music is played through the overhead. 

There is also a deposit opening for cars to leave donations, cards, or memory items.  Additionally, there is a retractable guest book that drive-thru mourners can sign.

President Ivan Phillips says he is trying to be sensitive to the needs of the elderly who may have mobility issues that make it difficult to get into the building.  He asserts that his drive-thru enables people who might not otherwise visit the funeral home to honor the deceased.

See Associated Press, Funeral Home Offers Drive-Thru Viewing, USA Today, Sept. 16, 2014.

Special thanks to Jim Hillhouse (Professional Legal Marketing (PLM, Inc.)) for bringing this article to my attention.

September 17, 2014 in Death Event Planning, Elder Law, Estate Planning - Generally, Humor | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

End of Life Plans Made Easy With LastingMatters Organizer


End of life decisions are difficult conversations to have with family and friends, and thus, avoided by many people for fear of placing an undue burden on their loved ones. While children, attorneys, and financial advisors often ask, people still find it difficult to discuss medical and financial directives.  They simultaneously overlook significant issues frequently arising after death. 

Barbara Sedoric has crafted a innovative solution to help families decipher the important details when the unthinkable does occur.  The LastingMatters Organizer enables individuals to document and leave all-inclusive and easy-to-use instructions (in print or online) that can inform and guide their loved ones after death.  Topics covered range from funeral plans and obituaries, to online passwords and details concerning family traditions and genealogy. 

The Organizer is a tool that can help anyone, at any age, by diminishing the costs, time, and the stress of family pressures surrounding the grieving process. Conversely, the graphics, the pointed questions, and the Organizer’s thoroughness make it easy and intuitive for someone to complete.

Special thanks to Barbara Sedoric (LastingMatters President and Founder) for bringing this to my attention.

September 16, 2014 in Books, Death Event Planning, Disability Planning - Health Care, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Questions Surrounding Joan Rivers' Net Worth

Joan rivers

The recent death of Joan Rivers has led to a multitude of questions regarding the iconic comedian’s net worth.  Yet, Rivers’ lavish funeral serves as indicator that her daughter Melissa and the rest of the family will be well cared for. 

Rivers’ extravagant funeral was no surprise.  In the years before her death, Rivers displayed no signs of a declining net worth.  She left behind a New York City penthouse that was once compared to Marie Antoinette’s castle.  The 5,000 square foot home could sell form more than $30 million.  Between this, her Fashion Police salary, and her reported $1 billion of merchandise sales on QVC, Rivers’ net worth may even be above the rumored $150 million.

Like all other wealthy individuals, some of Joan Rivers’ net worth will go back to the government in the form of taxes.  How much of the estate will go to her daughter is still unknown.

See Melissa Siegel, Joan Rivers’ Net Worth Inherited By Melissa? ‘Fashion Police’ and QVC Income, Opulent NYC Penthouse Part of Substantial Estate, Hollywood Take, Sept. 9, 2014. 

September 13, 2014 in Current Affairs, Death Event Planning, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, September 12, 2014

Body Donation Program Under Investigation

Crime scene tape

Authorities are investigating programs in at least three states that accumulate bodies donated for scientific research, medical training and other purposes. 

A Detroit FBI official confirmed that the bureau is looking at an Oregon research center, and investigators have stormed facilities in Michigan and Arizona.  Aside from confirming the existence of an investigation, authorities have been secretive regarding what they are examining and why. 

In February, Michigan suspended the mortuary license of Arthur Rathbum, alleging that he embalmed bodies at a Detroit address that does not have a funeral home license. 

Authorities subpoenaed records from Portland, Oregon-based Legacy Health, a hospital chain that also operates Legacy Research Institute in Portland.  The institute uses cadavers for research and to train doctors and nurses for surgery.  FBI officials will say little about their investigations.

See Associated Press, Feds Investigating Body Donation Programs in Three States, Fox News, Sept. 11, 2014.

September 12, 2014 in Current Affairs, Death Event Planning, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)