Tell your family and closest friends about your choice for a burial that is better for the environment.

The Undertaker's Insight

Patrick McNally, funeral director and blogger, discusses contemporary end-of-life and ritual art.

Securing Your Wish for Green or Natural Burial

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Green burial, also known as natural burial, is becoming an increasingly popular disposition option. As a method of burial which uses no chemicals, preserves the natural landscape, and buries the body simply-- in a shroud, biodegradable casket, or neither-- it is appealing to those who are environmentally-conscious. However, it remains unknown to many people, and has yet to be a widespread occurrence. If you have your heart set on green burial, it is worthwhile to take some time to plan ahead. We have developed a set of steps to help you ensure your wishes are followed, beginning with communicating your special choice to your friends and family.

What should I do if I want to be have a green burial or natural burial? What steps can I take before death? What should I tell my family and friends? How can I ensure my natural burial wishes will be carried out? We provide these suggestions for securing your wish for green or natural burial.

Things to Know:

  • It's a good idea to talk about your wishes for green or natural burial with family and friends as early as possible.
  • Think about leaving a written plan with loved ones or including your wishes in a legal document.
  • You might want to consider having a home funeral in addition to a natural burial.
  • It is possible to set aside funds for your burial in a Totten Trust, also known as a payable on death account.
  • Prepaying for burial services is the only absolute way to ensure your wish for natural burial is carried out.

Step 1: Let you family and closest friends know that green burial, or natural burial, is what you want.

Discuss your reasons for choosing natural burial over other options. Explain that the natural burial process does not involve traditional caskets, tombstones, or embalming. Make sure that your power of attorney for health care or next of kin is in agreement with your decision; this person should be prepared to locate and ensure the viability of natural burial products and natural burial sites. They should also be ready to resist the pressure by funeral service providers to purchase burial products not in accordance with your wishes, such as vaults or embalming services. In most cases, these products are not required by law. Consider contacting the Green Burial Council, a non-profit green burial advocacy and accreditation organization, to assist you in better understanding your options. For more information, see our article on Choosing Green Burial or Natural Burial.

Step 2: Let your family and closest friends know if you have chosen a burial location.

If you want a natural burial in a biodegradable casket in a “green” or “woodland” cemetery, you can locate a site closest to your home through the Green Burial Council. Note that if your chosen green burial site is out of state or will require the shipping or long term transport of the body, some states may require that your remains be embalmed. Kansas, for example, requires that a body be embalmed if disposition will not occur within 24 hours of death. These laws vary considerably. You may wish to consider purchasing Joshua Slocum’s book, Final Rights: Reclaiming the American Way of Death, in order to educate yourself on your state’s after-death laws. Note that you may also have options for rural burial on land owned by family or friends.

Step 3: You may want to conduct a home funeral in addition to having a natural burial.

home funeral can be a healing, comforting experience for the loved ones affected by a loss. Laws governing home funerals differ greatly by state. Consider contacting a home funeral consultant, which is essentially a home funeral planner, near you. For more information, see SevenPonds’ article on Planning a Home Funeral.

Step 4: Leave written plans detailing your final preferences, or include your wishes in a durable power of attorney.

It is important that your family and friends understand your final preferences and your motivations for choosing them. To eliminate confusion, we recommend developing a written plan detailing your wishes and feelings in regard to celebration, disposition, and commemoration. Be as specific as possible — include your choices on burial container, type of service, type of disposition, etc. You can also include your wishes in your advance directives, and designate a person to carry out your wishes. For more information, you can reference our articles on Preplanning a Funeral or Memorial Service.

Step 5: Consider setting aside funds for your cremation in a Totten Trust, also called a "payable on death" account.

With a Totten Trust, easily established through a bank, the account holder can set aside a certain amount of funds to be released directly to a beneficiary following the account holder’s death, bypassing probate court. However, Totten Trusts are not available in every state, and some states will levee an estate tax before the funds are transferred. For more information, see Prepaying for Services. Note that technically, prepaying for service is the only way to definitively ensure your wish for natural burial will be carried out.

Step 6: Record your wishes for green burial in your will or living trust.

Some states recognize your authorization for cremation in a will or living trust. However, these documents are not accessible until after your death and, in many states, upon your death. Your closest relative, next of kin, or power of attorney for health care will be the one to make the final disposition decisions. If this person was not previously aware of your choices, he or she may fail to follow your wishes. That is why it is so important to discuss your choice for natural burial with your family before your death. If you have any reason to believe friends and family will not carry out your wishes for natural burial, you can secure your wishes through a prepaid plan.


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