Understanding Your Options for Disposition of Remains

Estate planning involves not only making arrangements to care for your loved ones, but also expressing your wishes in case of your own incapacitation or death. You can create an advance health care directive to express your desires when facing end-of-life issues. The directive will not only specify your choices for medical treatment should you be incapacitated and unable to speak for yourself, but it can also specify what to do with your remains if you die while hospitalized.  In California, if you don't have any written directions regarding your remains, your agent for health care named in the advance directive, is authorized to direct cremation or burial.

An advance directive, however, will only come into effect if you are hospitalized and facing an end-of-life situation. A will is also a useful document for specifying how you wish your remains to be disposed of because even if not probated, it provides the necessary instruction for burial or cremation.

Another approach is to confide your wishes with your loved ones and make advance arrangements, or to create a document called “Final Arrangements.” You must then entrust this document to someone who will carry out your wishes for you.

For all your estate planning needs, including planning for end-of-life decisions, contact the Law Office of Rodney Gould. Rodney Gould is proud to serve clients throughout Los Angeles, California, and the surrounding areas of Sherman Oaks, Studio City, West Hollywood, and Beverly Hills.

What Is Disposition of Remains?

Before you die, you can leave instructions for how you want your body – your remains – to be treated, or disposed of, when you are gone. 

You can request burial or cremation and specify where the remains should lie in repose or, in some cases, where the ashes are to be scattered after cremation. You can also donate your organs for use by others, and you can even donate your whole body for use in medical and forensics training.

What to Do With Ashes After Cremation

Unlike burial, which requires a casket or other type of container in which to place the body, cremated ashes can be stored in just about any container. There is no law covering what the container must be. You can purchase a container from a funeral home or crematory or make one yourself. 

When it comes to the wishes of the deceased to have their ashes scattered somewhere special to them, there are state and federal laws governing this. California allows the disposal of cremated remains in several ways:

  • Keeping them in your home (but you have to make arrangements to dispose of them upon your own death)
  • Placing them in a columbarium or mausoleum
  • Burying them on cemetery grounds
  • Storing them at a church or religious facility if local ordinances allow
  • Scattering them in a designated garden at a cemetery
  • Scattering them in any area of the state not prohibited by local law, but you must obtain written permission and scatter the ashes so they are not visible to the public
  • Scattering them at sea or inland navigable waters (not lakes or streams) at least 500 yards from shore
  • Scattering them from air (ashes only, not the container)

When it comes to private property, that is solely at the discretion and approval of the owner. A lot of people want to have their ashes scattered at Disneyland, but this is clearly not possible, legally or ethically.

Federal Laws and Regulations

Federal law governs not only the use of federal land for scattering ashes but also scattering them at sea. Some national parks allow scattering, but you should check their guidelines and regulations first. You will no doubt need to request permission as well. On other federal lands, you should also seek permission.

When it comes to scattering ashes into the Pacific Ocean or anywhere at sea, the federal Clean Water Act sets the standards. You must scatter the ashes at least three nautical miles from shore, and the container must either decompose easily or be disposed of separately.

The Clean Water Act also covers inland waters such as rivers and lakes (though California forbids lake scattering). You should notify the state agency maintaining the waterway and obtain a permit if required. Also, under the Clean Water Act, you must notify the EPA within 30 days of scattering at sea.

Veterans are entitled to be buried at one of the VA national cemeteries at no cost. A headstone or marker will be provided, along with a burial flag and a Presidential Memorial Certificate. Cremated remains are buried or inurned in national cemeteries in the same manner and with the same honors as casketed remains. Spouses and dependents can be buried alongside the deceased spouse, also at no cost to the family. The VA does not provide caskets or cremation services, however.

Getting the Experienced Legal Guidance You Need

Estate planning is an all-important step that many people leave until late in life. It’s better to start early so as to not leave anything to chance. If you do suffer a health setback and can no longer make your wishes known, you will put your loved ones in the situation of making momentous decisions for you.

For all your estate planning needs, including making your wishes known about end-of-life matters, contact the Law Office of Rodney Gould. Rodney Gould has helped countless others like you in Los Angeles and the surrounding communities of Sherman Oaks, Studio City, West Hollywood, and Beverly Hills with their estate planning needs.

He will meet with you, discuss your unique situation, advise you of your best options going forward, and draft the legal documents you need to create peace of mind for you and your loved ones. Call today for an initial consultation.


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