Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

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

Monday, April 22, 2019

Washington State Could Become First State to Allow Human Composting

TreeWashington state Senate and House of Representative passed bill 5001 on Friday which would allow residents to take part in natural organic reduction” of human remains. The bill reportedly passed easily and with bipartisan support, having taken years in the making to get the bill this far.

Research showed that careful composted human remains could be safe for use in a household garden, and that a trial that involved six backers that agreed to organic reduction. The results were positive and “the soil smelled like soil and nothing else." Democratic state Sen. Jamie Pedersen stated that, “People from all over the state who wrote to me are very excited about the prospect of becoming a tree or having a different alternative for themselves.” The process will reportedly cost $5,500.

See Edmund DeMarche, Washington State Could Become First State to Allow Human Composting, Fox News, April 21, 2019.

April 22, 2019 in Current Affairs, Current Events, Death Event Planning, Estate Planning - Generally, Science | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Cremation Mystery Besets Family: 2 Sets of Ashes for 1 Man

UrnThe family of Robert Nero, Sr. has been cherishing an urn they believed contained the patriarch's ashes after he passed away in 2013, placing it on a place of honor on his widow's mantle. They have recently learned that the urn may not contain their loved one's ashes, but instead the cremains of someone else entirely.

On March 25, a West Palm Beach YWCA worker, Scott Manochi, was clearing brush when he found two piles of ashes and two metal identification disks from a crematorium. Police contacted the crematorium, which stated that the ashes belonged to Nero and another person, and that they had handled the bodies for Stevens Brothers Funeral Home. The funeral home sent an employee to collect the ashes, Willie Watts, who also does grounds work for the YWCA. When contacted by a reporter, Watts feigned ignorance about the entire situation.

Miami Dade College mortuary science professor Joseph Finocchiaro said it's unlikely the ashes could have been outdoors for long, as weather conditions would have scattered them. Cremation almost always destroys the DNA of a person, so it would be nearly impossible to determine which ashes are truly Nero's. The answer may lie with the silver disk that accompanied the found pile of ashes. That disk is with the ashes through every step from the crematorium to the mortuary to the family, Finocchiaro says.

See Terry Spencer and Joshua Replogle, Cremation Mystery Besets Family: 2 Sets of Ashes for 1 Man, Fox News, April 16, 2019.

April 18, 2019 in Current Events, Death Event Planning, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

The Funeral as we Know it is Becoming a Relic - Just in Time for Death Boom

FuneralsIn a time where America is becoming more secular, people are embracing end of life celebrations instead of somber memorials and funerals. These parties celebrating a person's life are becoming extravagant and sunny fiestas, and less dark suit affairs. Funerals are not the first ceremonies to change in our era, considering there are now destination weddings and theatrical baby gender reveals.

The movement will accelerate as the nation approaches a historic spike in deaths. By 2037, 3.6 million people are projected to die in the United States, according to the Census Bureau, 1 million more than in 2015, which is projected to outpace the growth of the overall population.  28% of people chose cremation instead of traditional burials in 2002, but now more than half of Americans are choosing this less expensive option. By 2035, the cremation rate is projected to be 80% according to the National Funeral Directors Association.

The funeral industry is adapting to the evolving society and culture of America. Funeral homes have hired event planners, remodeled drab parlors to include dance floors and lounge areas, acquired liquor licenses to replace the traditional grief laced industrial-strength coffee. Mark Musgrove, a former president of the National Funeral Directors Association who runs a network of funeral homes and chapels in Eugene, Oregon, says that he has even organized memorials in Autzen Stadium, home of the University of Oregon's Ducks football team.

See Karen Heller, The Funeral as we Know it is Becoming a Relic - Just in Time for Death Boom, SF Gate, April 15, 2019.

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

April 17, 2019 in Current Affairs, Death Event Planning, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 12, 2019

Airport Police Looking for Traveler Who Left Cremated Human Remains at TSA Checkpoint in Alaska

UrnA passenger that went through the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport in August of 2018 appears to have forgotten an important piece of luggage. After earlier attempts to find the traveler failed, TSA have now reached how for the assistance of the public to return the cremated human remains that were left behind.

“There is no name or identifying marks on the ashes,” the department wrote on Facebook. “We believe the traveler left the TSA Screening Checkpoint with a urn, box, or bag, without realizing the ashes were still at the Screening Point.” The ashes are in a Ziploc bag and have remained in the lost-and-found for the past 6 months. The airport also reached out to local funeral homes and crematoriums but did not find any leads.

"Share it as much as possible,” urged Sgt. Dan Juarez of the airport police. “Even if you think you're sure that you have an urn and there's ashes in it, and you've traveled through the airport, just check.”

See Michael Bartiromo, Airport Police Looking for Traveler Who Left Cremated Human Remains at TSA Checkpoint in Alaska, Fox News, April 11, 2019.

April 12, 2019 in Current Events, Death Event Planning, Estate Planning - Generally, Travel | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

CLE on Unexpected Troubles When a Client Dies: Resolving Issues and Conflicts at the Time of Death

CLEThe New York Bar is holding conference entitled, Unexpected Troubles When a Client Dies: Resolving Issues and Conflicts at the Time of Death, on Monday, April 8, 2019 from 6:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the New York City Bar in New York City, New York. Provided below is a description of the event.

Trust & estates attorneys, elder law attorneys, and others who counsel older or disabled clients need to be familiar with unexpected problems that can happen when a client dies and family conflicts arise about funeral and other decisions they must make. What must you do and what can you do to enable your clients, their family and friends, to make the best decisions when they don’t all agree? This non-denominational panel discussion will address key legal, ethical, and practical questions, such as:

  • Who has decision making authority
  • What is the role of the funeral director
  • Deaths at home and what needs to be done
  • Formalities of making decisions and challenging them
  • Decisions concerning autopsy
  • Issues that may result from varying religious beliefs
  • Mechanisms to avoid or resolve disputes
  • Legal documents which could be helpful

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

March 26, 2019 in Conferences & CLE, Death Event Planning, Elder Law, Estate Planning - Generally, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0)

City of Coffins

CoffinsFor two brothers that are undertakers in El Salvador, Juan Carlos Pacheco and Carlos Stanley, bodies are an everyday occurrence in a country that has an estimated 11 murders a day. This is the highest per capita in the world and has caused the World Health Organization to label it as an epidemic. Gang activity is on the rise again in the country, increasing from the truce negotiated by the Catholic Church in 2012 between the two major gang rivals.

Together the brothers have embalmed 500 people in the last two years, the majority of which were deaths related to gang violence. Between the two they can embalm and prepare a body for its wake in 3 hours, and typically charge around $100 for their services. Though the brother are relatively new to the funeral business, death has been as feature in their lives since childhood. They grew up in the town of Jucuapa, made up of 18,000 residents and 30 coffin factories. The coffin industry is booming in such a manner that many of the locals are abandoning their farms, bakeries, and other businesses to make the "wooden pajamas." Workers are paid by the coffin, and good carpenters can make $250 a week while painters can make $150 per week.

The majority of the coffins sold are the economy model, económico, costing $90. The owner of a factory in Jucuapa, Jorge Cárdenas, says that the majority of deaths associated with gang violence are young males will minimal resources. “When it comes time for the funeral, it’s normally the town hall that pays for the coffin, and the state always chooses the cheapest option.” Cárdenas acknowledges that he is making money off the tragedy befalling his country, and that if the gang murders dramatically decreased, so would his business.

See Matthew Bremner, City of Coffins: Bloomberg Businessweek, MatthewBremner.com, March 24, 2019.

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

March 26, 2019 in Current Affairs, Death Event Planning, Estate Planning - Generally, Travel | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Glass Hearts with Cremains for Keepsake

BlueheartsEtsy is known as a market place for unique and often individualized items. So it comes to no surprised that handmade glass hearts with the personal touch of a loved one's cremains are offered as a service. 

The hearts are available in a wide assortment of colors and are approximately 3 inches in diameter and 3/4 inch thick.

The artist is based in Montana, and promises to return all unused cremains. They are also 50% off right now!

For more information, see here.

March 21, 2019 in Death Event Planning, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0)

Real Estate for the Afterlife

CemeteryLiving in New York City is expensive, but it appears that also residing in the city that never sleeps after death takes a large amount of money. Cemetery plots as well as above ground crypts have increased in price significantly over the years, with basic plots across the boroughs generally priced from $4,500 to $19,000, not including hefty fees for foundations, interments and maintenance. The cheapest can be found on Staten Island, but if you want to rest in a rare spot in Manhattan you could be spending upwards of $1 million.

Cemetery directors fully understand the concept that land is a finite resource in New York and have been coming up with ingenious ways to extend the occupancy of cemeteries, especially with the new popularity of cremations. Plots have decreased in size over the years and some are even "double-depth," a plot that can contain two coffins on top of each other. Just as New Yorkers with small apartments have been forced to turn dining rooms into bedrooms and closets into home offices, cemeteries, too, have gotten creative. Walkways, roadways, and other paths have been removed to make up for more grave sites.

Many cemeteries in New York are building columbaria, aboveground structures with niches that can hold hundreds or even thousands of urns for cremains. The niches within the structures can have glass fronts in which survivors can view the urns, which are often then accompanied by photos and other articles of their deceased loved one. Trinity Church's cemetery in Manhattan no longer accommodates in-ground burials, and aboveground crypts can run as high as $60,000 for a single coffin, while niches for a single urn range from $1,900 to $6,500.

See Jane Margolies, Real Estate for the Afterlife, New York Times, March 15, 2019.

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

March 21, 2019 in Current Affairs, Death Event Planning, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Leslie Jones' Funeral Plans (SNL video)

SNLSometimes, planning a funeral can be more fun for a girl than her wedding. Especially when it involves Alex Rodriguez, Run DMC, and Jason Mamoa.

Disclaimer: video contains "adult" language.

See Weekend Update: Leslie Jones' Funeral Plans, NBC, March 9, 2019.

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

March 19, 2019 in Current Events, Death Event Planning, Estate Planning - Generally, Humor | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 8, 2019

Facebook Plans to Turn Your Profile into ‘Virtual Grave’ When You Die

FbSocial media giant Facebook is adding a feature to profiles of those who have passed on that will allow guests to their page to leave comments on a "tribute" section. These memorialized profiles will be an electronic memorial for their deceased account holders.

Depending on the privacy settings of a memorialized account, Facebook friends can still write on the wall of its Timeline or comment on any posts the account holder made before they died. Facebook also has "legacy contacts," which are designated users that can manage the account after the originator has died. Legacy contacts will have the power now to control the tributes section including the ability to decide which other users can see and post tributes, delete posts and tributes, change who can view the page in its entirety, or even change tags of other users.

The ability to change pages into memorial pages started in 2009. The number of Facebook accounts belonging to deceased users continues to grow and will soon outnumber the amount of living users. Facebook has over two billion users but it is thought more than 10,000 of them die everyday.

See Charlotte Edwards, Facebook Plans to Turn Your Profile into ‘Virtual Grave’ When You Die, Fox News, March 6, 2019.

March 8, 2019 in Current Affairs, Current Events, Death Event Planning, Estate Planning - Generally, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0)