Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

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

Sunday, December 5, 2021

New California Law Eases Aid-in-Dying Process

DoctorsMany cancer patients have to undergo toxic treatment just so they can spend more time with their loved ones. For some, the toxic treatments kill the cancer and it never comes back. However, for Leslie—and many others—the cancer will make an aggressive return. 

After Leslie was diagnosed with breast cancer, she underwent toxic treatment so that she could spend more time with her husband and two young children. Although Leslie was cancer-free for 18 months, "the disease returned with a vengeance" and "fractured her bones and invaded her spinal canal, bathing her brain in malignancy." 

In her final months, Leslie was in constant pain and essentially withered away. According to Leslie's husband, Bernard J. Wolfson, the thought of ending her suffering by ending her life didnt even enter their conversations. 

Wolfson stated that he has been thinking about his wife's last days as he looks into California's End of Life Option Act, "which allows terminally ill patients with a life expectancy of less than six months to end their lives by taking medications prescribed by a physician." 

Amanda Villegas of Ontario, California, and an advocate for updating the original law which "contains numerous safeguards to ensure that patients are not being coerced by family members. . ." Under the original law, which remains in effect until January 1, patients who want to die must make two oral requests for the medications at least 15 days apart. 

According to Villegas, "[the new law] will open doors for people who might. . .experience the same roadblocks. . .[w]hen you are dying, the last thing you need is to go through bureaucratic barriers to access peace." 

See Bernard K. Wolfson, New California Law Eases Aid-in-Dying Process, KHN, December 3, 2021. 

Special thanks to Lewis Saret (Attorney, Washington, D.C.) for bringing this article to my attention.  

December 5, 2021 in Death Event Planning, Disability Planning - Health Care, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 1, 2021

Article: Prepaid Death

Victoria J. Haneman recently published an article entitled, Prepaid Death, Wills, Trusts, & Estates Law ejournal (2021). Provided below is the abstract to the Article: Deathcertificate

The cost of an adult funeral exceeds $9,000. Funerals are expensive and death is not considered an appropriate time to bargain shop. The consumer is generally inexpert and vulnerable due to bereavement. Decisions are often time-pressured and perceived as irreversibly final. Accordingly, the death care industry benefits both from information asymmetry and etiquette uncertainty. Protecting the bereaved consumer calls for reversing the current norm of at-need (after death) purchasing in favor of pre-need (before death) planning and prepayment. Due to excessive influence of the industry over its state regulators, referred to as regulatory capture, current pre-need prepayment instruments are so deeply flawed that conventional wisdom recommends against prepayment. This Article borrows from nudge theory to shape an intervention that will correct unfairness and inefficiency in an imperfect market, in a way that deftly sidesteps an all-out attack on the industry itself. The proposed paradigm shapes an incentive that allows the consumer to pay for pre-need death care service with pre-tax earnings through Internal Revenue Code Section 125 and flexible spending account principles. Untangling regulatory capture becomes unnecessary: federal tax-sheltering of pre-need prepayment dollars will generate consumer demand for reliable and qualified pre-need prepayment financial instruments. This increased demand for pre-need instruments will, in turn, provide an incentive for funeral providers to offer the attractive terms necessary to compete for this new base.

October 1, 2021 in Articles, Death Event Planning, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 27, 2021

Body composting a 'green' alternative to burial, cremation

Seth Viddal and one of his employees have built a "vessel they hope will usher in a more environmentally friendly era of mortuary science that includes the natural organic reduction of human remains, also known as body composting." 

According to Viddal, who compared the process to backyard composting of food scraps and yard waste, "It's a natural process where the body is returned to an elemental level over a short period of time. . .This is the same process but done with a human body inside of a vessel, and in our case, in a controlled environment." 

On September 7, Colorado became the second state after Washington to allow human body composting. Beginning next July, Oregon will allow the same practice. 

Viddal co-owns The Natural Funeral in Lafayette and lobbied the Colorado legislature for the option to practice body composting and. began building a prototype vessel soon after the bipartisan bill was signed into law. 

Viddal, who calls the process "an exciting ecological option," said that "[c]omposting itself is a very living function and it's performed by living organisms. . .There are billions of microbial, living things in our digestive tracts and just contained in our body." 

See Body composting a 'green' alternative to burial, cremation, Fox Business, September 16, 2021. 

September 27, 2021 in Death Event Planning, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Alone in death

BurialEach year in the United States, tens of thousands of bodies go unclaimed. Maricopa County's White Tanks Cemetery is not unaccustomed to taking unclaimed remains.

The "desolate cemetery," just twenty miles outside of Phoenix, often holds burial services for unclaimed remains. Marjorie Anderson's, a 51-year-old mother of two, remains were delivered to the White Tanks Cemetery in a plastic urn which was transported in a cardboard Costco box. 

Those present at Anderson's burial included an Episcopal chaplain and a few county workers, but there was nobody there that knew Anderson. Anderson's urn was placed next to 13 others along the edge of a freshly dug trench. 

Situations like this happen weekly at the White Tanks Cemetery, "where a record 551 people were laid to rest last year, part of a surge of unclaimed bodies." 

Although there are no official statistics about how many unclaimed bodies are buried across America "a Washington Post Investigation. . .found that every year tens of thousands of lives end this way." 

Further, Covid-19 increased the number of unclaimed bodies in a variety of places, including Maricopa, which had a 30 percent spike. 

Sadly, the problem was growing even before Covid-19 plagued the World. 

See Mary Jordan & Kevin Sullivan, Alone in death, The Washington Post, September 17, 2021. 

Special thanks to Joel C. Dobris (Professor of Law, UC Davis School of Law) for bringing this article to my attention.

September 19, 2021 in Death Event Planning, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Article: Decisions at the End of Life

David Orentlicher and Judit Sandor recently published an article entitled, Decisions at the End of Life, Wills, Trusts, & Estates Law ejournal (2021). Provided below is the abstract to the Article: Estate planning

Advances in medical technology have increased the ethical and legal dilemmas at the end of life. It is difficult to know the “good death “or what constitutes a dignified ending of life. Nor is the proper role of the law in regulating end-of-life medical care clear. To what extent should these matters be worked out between physicians and patients (or families), and to what extent should legal rules guide practice? And who should determine the rules—legislators issuing laws of broad application, or judges developing nuanced standards on a case-by-case basis?

In this chapter we explore the similarities and the major differences between U.S. and European legal thinking and jurisprudence. Of course, on a number of issues, there is no single U.S. or European approach. Accordingly, while we will give special attention to the jurisprudence of the U.S. Supreme Court and the European Court of Human Rights, we also will consider the significant variations among different U.S. states and different European countries.

August 22, 2021 in Articles, Death Event Planning, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, August 1, 2021

New, environmentally friendly option for final resting place in Flagstaff

DeathcertificateArizona now has its first Conservation Memorial Forest, a place where people's ashes can be spread in nature. The "Better Place Forests," located in Flagstaff said "that their mission is to give people a meaningful legacy with they end-of-life arrangements all while conserving natural areas for future generations." 

Sandy Gibson, the CEO of Better Place Forests said, "Better Place Forests is a sustainable alternative to traditional cemeteries, where instead of a grave and a tombstone, and buying a body, a family is choosing a tree and that tree is private to that family and that is where they spread the ashes of their loved ones. And buying that tree, they're helping to create a permanently protected conservative area." 

See New, environmentally friendly option for final resting place in Flagstaff, KVOA News: Tucson, June 16, 2021. 


August 1, 2021 in Death Event Planning, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Oklahoma Supreme Court Weighs In On Who Controls the Disposition Of a Decedent’s Remains

Estate planningIn In the Matter of The Estate of Downing, "the Oklahoma Supreme Court considered a dispute over the control of the disposition of a decedent's remains, and what constitutes sufficient evidence of a written document instructing the method and manner of handling the remains under Oklahoma law." 

The Decedent, Vandell Downing, and Maxine Bailey lived together for 36 years and had six children together. The couple lived together until Decedent's death in 2018. At some point in the relationship, Decedent gave Bailey a ring to symbolize their marital status.

After Decedent's death, Bailey filed a petition seeking appointment as administrator of the estate, claiming she was Decedent's common-law wife. Three of the Decedent's children "filed an application requesting an ex party emergency temporary restraining order against Bailey and Pollard Funeral Home to prevent disposal of the body." 

The Children refuted the fact that Bailey was Decedent's common-law wife and claimed that they were entitled to statutory control over Decedent's body.

The trial court found that "[Downing] and the Decedent were parties to a common law marriage, and that by the authority just mentioned, the Petitioner is the Decedent's surviving widow." The court further ruled that "Decedent executed a written document which indicated his desire [to be buried], the contract bu whereby he purchased his burial plot." The court then granted a final restraining order and instructed Bailey to carry out the burial of Decedent's remains. 

In Oklahoma, a decedent preference concerning the handling of their remains must be in writing. 

The Oklahoma Supreme Court held that there was no evidence in the record of any executed written document assigning responsibility for or "directing the manner/method of disposing of Decedent's remains. . ." and the Oklahoma trial court erred by directing burial over the surviving widow's objection. 

See Oklahoma Supreme Court Weighs In On Who Controls the Disposition Of a Decedent’s Remains, Probate Stars, July 6, 2021. 

July 7, 2021 in Death Event Planning, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, New Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 31, 2021

Utah’s Headstone Fudge Recipe Shared Around The World

During Memorial Day Weekend, it is normal for cemeteries to see heavy traffic. However, there is one gravestone in particular that brings a unique amount of traffic. 

The headstone is located in Salt Lake City, Utah and contains a now world famous fudge recipe. The headstone is that of Kathryn Andrews, who according to her daughter Janice Johnson, loved people and enjoyed writing poetry and making fudge. 

Johnson said she was really surprised by all of the attention the gravestone receives. According to Johnson, “We’ve looked online, and I guess it’s gone even to Europe.”

When Kathryn Andrews was young she moved to New York City where she met Air Force Captain Wade Andrews. When the couple met, Captain Andrews was waiting to fly out to go to World War II. The couple had one date and Captain Andrews left for Germany the next day. 

He When Captain Andrews returned, he had with him a diamond ring, which he gave to Kathryn at the Capitol steps. They were married 18 days later. 

See Utah’s Headstone Fudge Recipe Shared Around The World CNN, May, 28, 2021


May 31, 2021 in Death Event Planning, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 13, 2021

"Cost of dying" in America nears $20K

DeathcertificateThe cost of dying in the United States is approaching $20,000. The growth has many implications since death—and taxes—is one of the only things in life that is certain. 

Using 2020 figures from the National Directors Association and the CDC, "the group looked at the average 'cost of dying' across the U.S. based on the price of end-of-life care, funerals and cremations." 

The cost of dying is around $19,566, with Hawaii being the priciest state with end-of-life medical costs averaging $23,073, the average funeral cost at $14,478, and the average cost of cremation cost being around $12,095. The total: $36,124. Mississippi is the cheapest place today with the average cost of dying being $15,516. 

The CDC figures show that the cost of funerals and end-of-life care "jumped $63.8 billion in 2020, up 14.3% from a total of %55.8 billion in 2019." 

See Caitlin Owens, "Cost of dying" in America nears $20K, Axios: Vitals, May 12, 2021. 

Special thanks to Joel C. Dobris (Professor of Law, UC Davis School of Law) for bringing this article to my attention.

May 13, 2021 in Death Event Planning, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 26, 2021

3D-Printed Head Shaped Urns Coming To Mantle Near You. UM CREEPY!

3dA Vermont company named Cremation Solutions has created a creative new way to memorialize your loved one. Cremation Solutions has begun creating 3D-printed head shaped urns that imitate the likeness of your loved ones. 

The Urns are created by photos and allow a very unique personalization characteristic that his heads above your classic urn. 

The full-sized urn is around 28cm high—big enough to hold the ashes of an adult. There is also a smaller option that is 15cm, referred to as the "keepsake" option, meant to hold just a portion of the ashes. 

The 3D-printed Urns do not come with hair, but hair can be added digitally or in the form of a wig. 

The smaller urn option is priced at $600 and the larger option is priced at $2600. 

It gets even better. You do not have to use the likeness of your loved ones for the urns. You can actually have one made using the likeness of your favorite hero, even President Barack Obama. 

See Deborah Corn, 3D-Printed Head Shaped Urns Coming To Mantle Near You. UM CREEPY!, Prime Media Center, (last visited April 26, 2021). 

Special thanks to David S. Luber (Florida Probate Attorney) for bringing this article to my attention.

April 26, 2021 in Death Event Planning, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0)