Burial, Cremation or Cryogenics? Making Your Preferences Clear to Your Family

Michelle L. Feinberg, Esq.

Now is the time to make your wishes known to your loved ones as to how your body should be disposed of upon your death. If you do not effectively express your desires while you are alive, the decision will be left to your spouse, and if you are not married, to your next of kin. Should your next of kin not see eye to eye on the subject, as we have observed in the unfolding drama of the Ted Williams family, not only could there be an everlasting family rift, but your body could end up in places you never even dreamed of.

For unmarried individuals in Massachusetts who would prefer that their partners make such decisions for them, any conflicting decision of the deceased individual\'s family member would prevail. This result may be unacceptable to those in long-term relationships who had not yet married or for those in gay or lesbian relationships who had not been afforded marital rights by law.

There is no clearer expression of your intentions than to make prepaid funeral arrangements with a reputable funeral home. In lieu of this, you should give a letter of instructions clearly communicating your wishes to your family members, your partner, your estate planning attorney and the desired funeral director, if any. You can make such expression in your will, but by the time the will is allowed by the court, it would be too late. Nevertheless, an expression in your will would certainly influence your family members, particularly if you had brought the provision to their attention during your lifetime.

If you make an anatomical gift in your will, however, the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act as adopted by Massachusetts would permit such gift to be effective even before the will is probated. The time-sensitivity of an anatomical gift would require that you also make such intention known by other means, such as a donor card from the New England Organ Bank and a decal from the Massachusetts Registrar of Motor Vehicles affixed to your driver\'s license.

Whatever means you choose, you should make your preferences known in writing; and if you have a change of heart, be sure to have your documents revised. While you might consider planning for the disposal of your remains a morbid task, it is best to attend to the matter and leave the mystery out of it, as your loved ones will have enough to cope with when you are gone.