We should all have control over how we die, and for some, that includes what happens to our bodies after we die and how we are memorialized. It can be difficult to think these things through while still alive, but including this information in your end-of-life planning affords you the opportunity to have a say in how you are remembered, and prevents your loved ones from having to make potentially painful decisions while they are grieving your death. 

Options for body disposition

There are many options for body disposition to consider. It is important to note that body disposition regulations vary by state. You can look up your state chapter with the Funeral Consumers Alliance to get started with understanding your state’s laws. Some of the more common options include: 

Cremation is one of the most common body disposition options in the U.S. and generally entails incinerating your body in a cremator (a type of furnace) and turning it into ashes. There are non-incinerating cremation options like hydro-cremation, but they are not yet legal in every state. There are both designated crematories and funeral homes that operate their own crematories onsite or elsewhere.

Some questions you may want to consider when it comes to cremation:  

  • Do you want witnesses at the cremation? 
  • What do you want to be cremated in? 
  • Where do you want your ashes to go? 

Burials are the other most common type of body disposition. If you decide to be buried, there are two popular types to consider:

The first is a traditional burial, which typically involves embalming and dressing, a viewing or visitation, a funeral service, transportation to the cemetery, and a casket that is buried in the ground, at sea, or on private property or family plots in ancient cemeteries. State regulations vary on cemetery alternatives. 

Another option is a green burial. Also known as direct or natural burial, they take place shortly after death. There is no chemical embalming. Your body may be placed in a simple wooden casket, shroud, or something like a mushroom suit that accelerates the decomposition process. You are then interred in soil to naturally decompose. Not all cemeteries allow this option, so it is important to check before choosing your final resting place.

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Body Disposition Costs

Body disposition costs vary considerably. Cremation is generally less expensive than a burial, but certain factors can make either option more or less costly. Many crematories, funeral homes, and cemeteries will try to sell you packages of services. This may not give you the fully inclusive breakdown of your options. You can also ask for their general price list (GPL), which is an itemized list of all items and services on offer that is mandated by the Federal Trade Commission. 

Other ways to reduce the burden of body disposition costs on your loved ones include setting up a designated savings account for burial and/or memorial costs; setting aside money in your will or trust; and, pre-paying for specific services or burial plots. 

If you or your loved ones are unable to afford the cost of body disposition, you may also be able to release your body to the state for burial or cremation, and pay a small fee to have your ashes received after cremation. Trust&Will describes other cost-effective options to consider, as well ideas for families to cover costs in creative ways if needed.  

Can I donate my body to science? 

Body donation is a popular option that many people consider. You can donate your body to medical schools for training future doctors, scientific research, or have some organs/tissues donated to living recipients. 

If there is an institution you are interested in donating your body to, check with them first to make sure it is the right option, and have an alternative plan in case your body is rejected or not needed after you die. To learn more about options and reputable institutions in your state, visit the American Association for Anatomy.