Everything You Never Knew About Disposing of Your Remains: Pt. 4 – Thinking Outside the Box From Austin Estate Planning Attorney Elizabeth Ziegler

Disposition of Remains - Science

After covering everything from the conventional to the groundbreaking in disposition of your mortal remains, it may seem as though burial (both natural and traditional) and disposal of cremains (by storage or scattering) to be the only options.  And yet, there are so many more choices for your final remains than simply these.  Case in point, on August 20, 2005 the ashes of famed gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson were blasted into the sky from a 153-foot tower specially constructed on his Colorado ranch for the funeral.  The eccentric author laid out all the details of his final wishes earlier in his life, and his good friend Johnny Depp spent a reported $3 million dollars to honor Thompson’s wishes.

While none of us may have the funds or the friends willing to send our mortal remains sky-high, there are plenty of creative options for your final remains to choose from than those already covered in this blog.

Donating Yourself to Science

It may give some people the creeps, but schools for doctors, dentists, and anthropologists use human remains to train students. Meaning, there’s a need for bodies to study.  The desire to help push forward scientific research is a noble one.  However, in Texas, donating your body to science is a little more difficult than you might first think.

If you want to have your body donated, an important first step will be to have an agreement with a medical school in place prior to your death.  While there are currently no medical schools in Austin accepting donations, Austinites may work with either the Willed Body Programs at the University of Texas McGovern Medical School in Houston or the UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.  Both programs provide transport of your remains from any location in Texas to their schools.  In order to donate your body to either program, you will need to contact the program and request the donor forms/applications.  While each program has its own paperwork, you will want to make copies of the form (to keep with your estate papers) and return the originals to the program of your choice.

Please be aware that most programs which conduct research on human remains reserve the right to reject an offered body, and they have a strict list of criteria which can get you rejected.  This can leave your loved ones scrambling to make an alternate plan if no one wants your body.

The list of things (while not exhaustive) which can cause rejection involve: 1) being an organ donor, 2) having an autopsy performed, 3) if there has been an amputation of any limbs, 4) having an open surgical wound at the time of death, 5) if you were afflicted with any contagious diseases (including tuberculosis, hepatitis, MRSA/VRE, COVID-19, or any STD/STIs), 6) if you are either obese (weigh more than 224lbs) or if you are emaciated (weigh under 80lbs), 7) being under 18 years of age, and finally, 8) dying by suicide or severe trauma (drowning, burning, homicide, vehicle accident) can all get your donation rejected from most medical/dental programs or from any of the anthropological body farms.

However, if your remains are accepted for study, most programs will only hold your body for a few years. At which point your remains are cremated.  Loved ones can choose to have the cremains returned to them or the ashes may be scattered in a pre-designated scattering garden or at sea.

Putting It On Ice

It may seem like an option from a science fiction movie, but these days it is possible to preserve yourself cryogenically.  Before you begin planning your futuristic life, this option is not for the faint of heart.

Something to consider is that while there are various facilities to cryogenically store genetic material, the suspension of whole human bodies remains controversial.  Currently only two facilities exist in the U.S. which can cryogenically preserve your body, Alcor Life Extension Foundation and the Cryonics Institute. Additionally, Alcor is the only facility in the U.S. which provides for neurosuspension (preserving just the brain and brain stem).

While current prices are not readily available, this option carries quite the sticker shock.  Back in 2013, prices for Alcor’s neurosuspension alone were an estimated $70,000 (with an additional $10,000 for transport to the storage facility). That figure jumped exponentially for whole body suspension, to a jaw dropping estimated $200,000 base price (plus $80,000 for transport). In the eight years since, these prices have likely risen to even steeper estimates.

Back in 2013, the Cryonics Institute quoted a more modest $28,000 for whole body suspension.  However, that fee did not include the cost of transport or of stand-by preservation procedures, which likely brought the cost up drastically. In order to cover these eye watering prices of preservation and long-term care, cryonicists will often take out additional life insurance policies and name the preservation company as the beneficiary.

Furthermore, the carbon footprint of this choice is rather large. The chemicals and energy needed to continue to run the preservation equipment and ensure your material does not become frost bitten have an environmental impact. Meaning, those wishing to live a more green-focused life may want to look elsewhere.  But, for those who can stomach the cost, the future may be calling to you.

Something else to consider when planning your preservation, is ensuring your designated helpers will comply with your wishes.  This is especially important for cryonicists, since often the money spent for preservation is wasted when the loved ones of a cryonicists (who often don’t agree with their choice) choose a more traditional method of disposing of your remain.  This makes it all the more important to have a plan in place which either pre-designates a guardian or medical power of attorney agent who sympathetic to your choice or prevents those opposed to cryopreservation from making decisions for you when you’re incapacitated or deceased.

Completing an Estate Plan

Often the more un-conventional the plan to dispose of your remains, the more important it is to have a clear plan in place and to make sure the plan is updated so it remains effective.  If you have begun an estate plan, but didn’t finish it, or if you have decided on a non-conventional choice to dispose of your remains, now may be the time to complete or update your plan.

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.