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Rest in Peace

Key decisions to make now

By Jennifer Balmos

Picture of People at a Cremation Funeral

Mentioning how you want your remains treated after death is a quick way to kill a casual conversation, but avoiding the topic because it is uncomfortable leaves your loved ones to piece together your wishes while also grieving their loss.

First, know what you want. That sounds simplistic, but the options might be broader than you expect. Do you feel strongly about picking the flowers, songs, and people to speak at your service?Do you want your ashes scattered in a particular location? Do you want minimal fuss to be made at all?

If you feel strongly about having your ashes scattered, ensure that your wishes are memorialized. Section 711.002 of the Texas Health and Safety Code states that the remains of a person who passes away without a will must be interred. The statute further defines interment as “entombment, burial, or placement in a niche” without any further options. This quirk in the law underscores the importance of planning ahead.

Those concerned about environmental impact may wish to avoid embalming, as each body typically requires three to four gallons of chemicals, which can then leak into the soil, or, potentially, groundwater. To put that in perspective: a small swimming pool could be filled with the chemicals used by a 10-acre cemetery.

Options for a green burial range from burial of the body in a simple shroud to cremation with ashes placed into a biodegradable urn, which is subsequently buried. These choices are not available at every cemetery in Texas, which requires some proactive planning if you feel strongly about a certain method. And again, “green” tends to represent a spectrum rather than a specific instruction, so consider leaving additional specific instruction for your loved ones.

For those who wish to donate their body to a medical school, it is imperative to plan ahead. Each school has its own preferred procedures, and many will assist patients and family members with the process. Additionally, not all bodies will be acceptable for study, so developing a backup plan is critical.

Second, make sure your loved ones know your wishes. The most comprehensive and specific plan will do no good if no one knows about it. The best way to make sure that your wishes are respected is by drafting a will or a standalone declaration. This is especially important if your loved ones do not share your wishes.

Third, consider setting aside money or pre-paying for your services to save your family and loved ones expense while they are grieving. The probate process may take a matter of months to transfer the title of assets. During that time, your final expenses will likely need to be paid.

Planning ahead allows your loved ones to mourn their loss without fighting over what happens to your body or trying to figure out what you would have wanted in the first place. Start the new decade off by thinking about your options and developing a plan. TBJ

Headshot of Jennifer BalmostJENNIFER BALMOS practices elder law, estate planning, and special needs planning in Bartonville at Balmos Law.

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