Everything You Never Knew About Disposing of Your Remains: Pt. 5 – Unconventional Options from Austin Estate Planning Attorney Elizabeth Ziegler

Disposition of Remains - Tree

We all want to leave a legacy and to be remembered by our loved ones.  For many people, this remembrance is through family visiting the grave of a loved one or by keeping an urn of cremains in their home. Others choose something a bit more unconventional cremains options.  As discussed in a prior post, the options for disposal of your cremains are varied.  You can choose to be interred in a niche, kept in a family member’s home, or you can choose to be scattered in an appropriate place.  However, these are by no means your only options.  In fact, the sheer number of options might surprise you.

Unconventional Cremains Methods:

Memento Mori

There has been a long practice of keeping a part of a deceased loved one around to remember them by.  Most often recalled from the Victoria and Edwardian eras, the practice of keeping a lock of a loved one’s hair in a ring or broach was a way to keep them close.  Now days, rings of hair aren’t all that prevalent, but it’s still possible to wear a loved ones’ remains.

Oh yes, you can opt to have your cremains crafted into your own memorial jewelry by having your ashes pressed into a synthetic diamond.  Currently there are a variety of places you can find online which can create memorial gemstones.  Many of these memorial gem companies also work with jewelers to help you design and set your own memorial piece of jewelry.

Some things to bear in mind, first only a small portion of the cremains will be used to create this memorial diamond (between 2 tables spoons to half a cup of cremains).  This means it will be important to have a plan for how to preserve or dispose of the rest of your cremains.  Second, the price can be a bit steep, ranging anywhere from $1,400 – $3,000 depending on the size, cut, color of the stone and the company you choose. These prices are in addition to the cost of cremation.

Going Out With a Bang!

As mentioned in a prior post, ashes can be incorporated into firework or other pyrotechnic displays. The most famed use of this method is Hunter S. Thompson in 2005.  While the practice is more common in the U.K., there are some companies in the U.S. which can incorporate about three tablespoons of ashes into a firework shell.  Sadly for Texans, the closest companies are in Missouri and Ohio. Currently prices vary, from a few hundred dollars to over $10,000 for a truly explosive show.  Please keep in mind that in order to honor your wishes, your loved ones will also need to secure a fireworks permit first.

To Infinity and Beyond

If simply being shot into the sky from a firework isn’t far enough for you, it is now possible to send your ashes into space.  In 2012, a portion of the ashes of actor James Doohan, known to many as “Scotty” from the original Star Trek series, were loaded onto a capsule and launched into space.  Doohan’s ashes were among the cremains of 308 individuals reaching for the stars.  The capsule, once separated from the rocket, settled into a deteriorating Earth-orbit.  This capsule eventually fell back to Earth and burned up on re-entry into the atmosphere.

But it’s not just orbital releases, companies such as Celestis, provide both suborbital Earth flights and also deep space launches.  But just like cryonics, this option is probably for those with the deepest pockets.  As of 2012, it cost $2,995 per gram to send about three tablespoons into an Earth orbit.  The cost skyrocketed (quite literally) with deep space launches starting at a whopping $12,500 per gram.  Since there roughly 17.07 grams in a tablespoon, that’s over $640,000 to send just a portion of you to space. Yikes!  Also, you’ll want to remember that since not all your ashes will be journeying into cosmos, you’ll need to make arrangements for the rest of your cremains.

Mix Up Memories and Legacies

If explosives are a bit too violent a method for ashes disposal, you can elect to have your ashes mixed into other substances to leave permanent reminders of your life.  You can mix your cremains with mortar and become part of reef reconstruction or you can also mix your ashes into ink for a memorial tattoo.

Memorial Art

They say there’s nothing more permanent than a tattoo.  Tattooing as a practice has a long history, and memorial tattoos have been part of that history. It has become quite common to memorialize a loved one through a tattoo, and recently this practice has evolved to include cremains in the tattoo itself.  That’s right, part of your ashes can be incorporated into the tattoo ink and injected into the memorial art.

The process is much like regular tattooing, but you’ll want to work with a reputable company that can ensure the cremains are purified and properly infused into the ink.  Companies such as Cremation Ink can help you pick inks, purify the ashes, and help you choose a knowledgeable local artist who can give you the personalized memorial you’re wanting.

Before you worry, the process is completely legal, provided all the regular health requirements are met.  Additionally, the healing process is much the same as getting a regular tattoo.  Though those with sensitive skin may wish to consult a dermatologist before getting a cremation tattoo. Those who have been inked know that prices vary depending on the size, style, and artist. For a single ash infused ink (just one color) you can expect to pay somewhere between $200-300 for the ink alone.  For two colors, this price can be up to $500 for the ink alone, plus the cost of the artist’s time.

As with all these above mentioned options, only a portion of your remains are used.  So, please be aware you will need to make additional plans on what to do with the remainder of your remains.

Reef Rebuilding

In the late 90s, companies began working to rebuild coral reefs along the US coastline which had been destroyed due to boating and other degradation.  In order to help rebuild these ecosystems, companies began to develop reef balls, concrete structures which encourage corals and other marine organisms to colonize the structure and jumpstart reef life.

It wasn’t until 1998 that cremains became part of these reef ball design.  Since then it’s possible to have your cremains purified (to prevent transmitting harmful bacteria), then have them mixed with the mortar to form a reef ball, which will be sunk into the ocean with an inscription of your final resting place pressed into the material.

When working with a company like Eternal Reefs, be prepared to pay quite a bit.  Currently the cheapest and smallest structure start at $4,000.  The price rises steadily to a mammoth $8,000 for a structure that’s 4 feet high and 5 feet wide.

Tree Planting

After all the methods of disposal of remains, the final one we’ll touch on is tree planting.  There are two methods of tree memorials. Either bio-degradable urns or capula mundi.  While both are focused on using remains to fuel plant life, they are slightly different from one another.

Capsula Mundi creates a burial pod which houses your un-embalmed body, just like natural or mushroom suit burial.  Once in the ground, a tree of your choosing is planted over the pod and the nutrients of your remains will help feed the tree as it grows.  At present, these burial pods cost around $500.  Please be aware, this amount is only for the pod itself and doesn’t include the price of the tree or the land it will be buried on, which will increase the price.

There are also smaller options for those wishing to use cremains to feed plant life.  Companies like the Living Urn can provide a capsule which will grow either indoor plants or an outdoor tree of your choosing.  Your ashes are placed into a biodegradable urn, along with the special mixture supplied by the company.  The mixture can be stored for a while before planting.  Once you have received your tree, plant in your preferred location and tend like you would any young sapling.  Trees can either be selected from the site or from a local nursery.  You can also use the living urns for flowers or other indoor potted plants and bonsai trees.

Prices for living urns are relatively inexpensive, starting around $130 but can go higher if you want to plant your biodegradable urn in a memory forest.

So Many Options Means You Need a Clear Plan

Whether you choose a modern burial, to be cremated or frozen, pressed into a diamond or to become a tree, the choice of what to do with your earthly remains is an important one.  It requires some thought and a clear plan for your loved ones.

If this series has given you some new ideas for your estate plan, or if you’ve never created a plan for yourself and your remains, now is the perfect time to begin the process. Give us a call and let us help you make sure your final wishes are spelled out for your loved ones.

Nielsen Law PLLC provides family focused estate and disposition of remains disposal for families and individuals in Austin, Round Rock, Cedar Park, and the Central Texas area.  For more information and to learn about our firm, please contact us.