What Happens to Your Body When You Die? The Choice Can Be Yours!

Many of us are too afraid of death to carefully consider what happens to our bodies after we die. Unfortunately, failing to plan for that event can leave your wishes unattended to and your family grief struck and unsure how to honor your wishes. And the larger truth is that facing your death proactively creates a better life now.

There are many options for disposal of the body when you die, including burial, cremation, and donation to science. These are difficult decisions to consider, especially if you aren’t familiar with the standard body-handling practices used in our society today.

A humorous—and possibility lighthearted—way to learn about these practices is to read Mary Roach’s Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers (New York, Norton, 2003), which explores the how and why of what happens to bodies when people die.

In Stiff, Roach takes us on a journey—albeit an unconventional one—to see what happens to human cadavers. From surgical practice to crash test dummies, donated—or unclaimed—bodies make significant contributions to many fields of research. But let’s say donating your body to science is not what you had in mind. Roach also touches on the other options we have such as traditional grave burials and cremation. And within those choices lie other choices such as the type of casket, where the body will be kept prior to funeral proceedings, and how ashes are distributed.

Stiff provides an entertaining and educational look at death and the practicalities surrounding it, which leads to the important issue of including your wishes in your estate plan. Most people don’t want to leave their loved ones with so many unanswered questions. Creating a comprehensive estate plan ahead of time is a way to ensure your family members are not left with such a burden.

You get to decide what will happen to your body after you die, but to ensure your family can carry out your wishes faithfully, you will want to work with a lawyer to clarify your choices in your estate plan.

You have many options including:

Donate your body to science. You can even specify a particular medical school, university program (called Willed Body Programs) or research organization you want to receive your body. Roach reviews many uses for human cadavers such as crash test dummies, surgical practice for medical students, ballistics testing, transplant experiments, and research on decomposition. You can also specify if you want to designate specific organs to go to science, Roach explains. This is something to consider for those with diseases or disorders that researchers can learn from.

Grave burial. You can specify where you want to be buried, how you want your body transported, what kind of casket you want, and how you want your burial proceedings to take place. You might need a permit if you want your body to cross state lines or travel internationally to arrive at your grave plot. If you haven’t already purchased a grave plot, now is a good time. You might also want to specify what you want printed on your gravestone.

Cremation. You can specify who will handle your cremation and who will receive your ashes. If you want your ashes brought to a particular place, used for a certain purpose (e.g. as fertilizer to grow a plant) or held in a special urn, those wishes should be clearly stated in your estate plan. While cremation can be economical for both the surviving family and the funeral director, Roach explains, many are not comfortable with the thought of their body being converted to ashes and bone fragments, and some religions even frown upon it. Consider your options, and discuss them with your family.

You might also want to include a provision regarding your funerary proceedings in your estate plan. The cost of funerals can be staggering, and the event itself can be a logistical nightmare for the family member struggling to grieve, honor your memory, and make significant decisions. Including specific provisions for your funeral can alleviate some of the burdens your loved ones will face.

When you die, your family will be left with many decisions and many tasks to carry out. It can be a confusing time leaving family members vulnerable financially or emotionally. Including specific instructions in your estate plan can ensure they are not left having to make difficult decisions at a time when they already have so much to deal with. Your family will also need the contact information for any organization(s) that will be involved in this process. Including provisions for details such as your grave plot, casket, funerary proceedings, and accounts you have set up to cover those costs can reduce the financial and emotional strain on your loved ones significantly.

Your estate plan should ensure your loved ones will be taken care of when you die. If you are ready to take the next step toward protecting your wishes and providing for your loved ones both emotionally and financially, start by sitting down with us. As your Estate Attorney, we can walk you step by step through creating an estate plan that will protect what you value most.

This article is a service of Gratia P. Schoemakers, your Estate Attorney. We don’t just draft documents, we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love.  That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. Begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session.

End-of-Life Communication and Care: A Struggle Most Physicians Encounter

Just as it is difficult for many of us to talk about our ultimate death, it is also difficult for doctors to talk about this eventuality with their patients. Most doctors did not specialize in palliative or end-of-life care, yet they are often called upon to have these tough discussions with patients.

You can make it far easier for your doctor, and for your family, by making your wishes known and documenting your choices in a properly drafted Advance Medical Directive, along with naming the people you want making decisions for you if you cannot. And, by ensuring you have updated your plan to include HIPAA releases to ensure your loved ones can access your medical records, if necessary.

Earlier this year Medicare began reimbursing doctors who engage in conversations with their patients about end-of-life care and choices. It’s a significant improvement in patient care while providing a financial incentive for doctors to have these conversations. Thirty minutes is reimbursable at an $80 rate, and an additional $75 may be billed for a second 30-minutes.

Many, however, doubt that doctors are equipped to handle this responsibility. In fact, the Chief Academic Officer for the Association of American Medical Colleges doesn’t believe the “medical profession is totally up to speed and ready to have these conversations.”

Dr. Susan Block of the Serious Illness Care Program at Ariadne Labs agrees, explaining that “[t]his conversation is at the intersection of two topics that medical schools have by and large avoided—end-of-life care and communication.”

Dr. Block is also concerned that not handling these types of conversations well may be worse than not having them at all. She suggests the use of an Ariadne Lab publication designed to help doctors know the right issues to raise with patients. You can access the Serious Illness Conversation Guide online if you would like to be more informed about how to talk these issues through with members of your own family.

It is always hard to acknowledge our mortality but doing so can bring significant peace of mind. We are here to help, and make it easy for you to choose to do the right thing by the people you love, and by your doctors as well.

This article is a service of Gratia P. Schoemakers, Personal Family Lawyer,®  who develops trusting relationships with families for life.  That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session,™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk because this planning is so important.

Clean Burials: New Mushroom Suit Removes Body Toxins

If you have ever wondered about the impact your body will have on the environment when you are gone, you are not alone. Traditional burial and cremation both present significant environmental challenges.

When traditional burial is used, embalming fluid—typically a formaldehyde cocktail—is injected into the body to delay decomposition. While these chemicals achieve the desired effect (preserving the body, particularly for viewing by family and friends), they remain in the body after burial and may seep into the soil.

Cremation, on the other hand, comes with its own set of environmental concerns. The non-profit Funeral Consumers Alliance of Southern California reports that “an average of 28 gallons of fuel” is used in a typical cremation, releasing ”approximately 540 pounds of carbon dioxide.”

Recognizing the lack of eco-friendly options, two designers created the Infinity Burial Suit and related products. The handcrafted suit is made from infinity mushrooms, developed by the designers to quickly decompose body tissue and excretions, as well as industrial toxins. The company which sells the suit suggests that “[t]he cultivation process promotes acceptance of and a personal engagement with death and decomposition.”

While it can be difficult to think about death and the decomposition of our bodies, the fact is that we will all die. Once we come to terms with this, we can become proactive in arranging things our way. Accepting death allows us to plan our own funeral/burial and plan a legacy of love for our family after we’re gone.

You can accomplish all of this – and more – by working with a Personal Family Lawyer®. We help you face and plan for the reality of death in such a way that it actually makes your life better now. You will experience peace of mind and relief that you have taken the steps necessary to leave your family a legacy of love. This type of planning is a gift of life for yourself and a lifetime gift for your family.

This article is a service of Gratia P. Schoemakers, Personal Family Lawyer,®  who develops trusting relationships with families for life. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session,™ where we can help you make plans for how you want to provide for your loved ones when you can’t be there. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk because this planning is so important.

Emergency iPhone Health App Can Save Your Life

Have you given any thought to how emergency medical care providers know who to contact or what to do if you are in an accident? Some people wear wristbands that contain important health information, such as drug allergies. But there’s an even better tool located in something many of us already carry every day—our iPhones.

The Health App

The iPhone, manufactured by Apple Inc., comes with a free Health app which allows users to track details of their health. From the Health Dashboard, a user can track daily steps, weight, and heart rate. Even nutrition and sleep patterns may be managed using the app.

But setting aside all that fancy stuff, Health is a great app for ensuring medical personnel, such as of emergency room staff and paramedics, have critical information for both treatment and contact purposes.

Users can create an “emergency card” that others can access directly from the lock screen. Even if a passcode is required to unlock the phone, the emergency card can be accessed simply by pressing the Emergency button on the lock screen. Users can choose the information that is displayed, and the information input into the emergency card is not shared with other apps.

How to Get Started

Click the icon that looks like a white square containing a red heart. The Medical ID card should open. Click the “Edit” button in the upper right hand of the screen and input the information you want to be available from your “Lock” screen, such as the following:

  • Birth date;
  • Medical conditions;
  • Medical notes;
  • Allergies and reactions;
  • Medications;
  • Blood type;
  • Organ donor information;
  • Height and weight; and
  • Emergency contact information.

With the Health app, you can arm your emergency health care providers with critical information, potentially saving your life and ensuring your loved ones are contacted in the event of an emergency. So why not take a few minutes to take advantage of this valuable, free tool today?

This article is a service of Gratia P. Schoemakers, Personal Family Lawyer,®  who develops trusting relationships with families for life.  If you’re ready to begin planning what you’d like to happen in case of unfortunate emergency, or even your death, schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session™ today. We can help you make plans for how you want to provide for your loved ones when you can’t be there. Contact us today to schedule an appointment to discuss your future and we’ll identify together how to best prepare for you and your family.





Consider Your Estate Plan Before You Travel

We are fast approaching the holidays, when travel is the busiest and careful planning is necessary to nab the best airfare or book that New Year’s beach cottage before it slips away.  One thing that is probably not on your travel to-do list is estate planning, but it should be so you can travel with peace of mind.

Here are some tips to pack away your worries before you board that flight:

Complete your estate plan.  If you’ve been putting it off, now is the time to complete your estate plan.  If money is a consideration, then start with those the most important items: a will, power of attorney and advance health care directives.

Update an existing estate plan.  Has something changed in your life since you last updated your estate plan?   A birth, a death, a marriage, a divorce?  Each of these triggers your need to update your estate plan.

Establish guardianship for minor children.  If you have ever gotten a nagging fear about what would happen to your children if something were to happen to you, then use that fear to follow through on naming a guardian for raising your minor children.  If you have young kids, there is never an excuse for you to neglect this important step.

Review beneficiaries.  Beneficiaries of your retirement accounts, life insurance and other assets must be kept current or your assets will not pass to them upon your death.  If you have minor children, you will need to set up a trust and name the trust as beneficiary so your assets can pass without court intervention.

Review/update incapacity documents.  Two very important health care documents – a durable power of attorney for health care and a HIPAA Authorization – will determine who can make medical decisions for you and who has access to your medical records in case of incapacity.  Be sure you have these documents before you travel and that the person/people named are still valid.

Review/update insurance.  Does your life insurance coverage still meet your family’s needs?  If not, it is time to update your insurance policy before you hit the road.

In addition, you need to be sure you have an organized file of all your accounts and estate planning documents and you need to tell your family where they can locate the file if and when it becomes necessary.

The time to create a plan that spells out how you will pass on your values, beliefs and your money to your children is now.  You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk because this planning is so important.


How to Ensure Your End-of-Life Wishes Are Respected

How do you want to die? Do you want lifesaving treatments to be administered even if all brain activity has ceased? Is your family aware of your wishes? And perhaps the more important question, is your doctor aware of your wishes?

Included in a complete estate plan is a living will (or Advance Health Care Directive) nominating a health care agent and stating your wishes for end of life decisions and treatment. This document is clear and comprehensive, yet many times health care professionals still have a difficult time withholding life-saving treatments, even if administering them goes expressly against a patient’s clear wishes to the contrary.

Sometimes, signing a living will is not enough. To be sure your wishes will be followed, you need to include your family and your doctor in your decision-making process, even to the extent that your agent and your doctor sign a statement to the effect that they have reviewed and agree to follow your wishes.

Don’t be one of the growing numbers of people whose wishes for end of life treatment are ignored. Bring your living will or health care directive to your next doctor’s appointment to review with your physician. And ask your Personal Family Lawyer® about any state specific forms to bolster your estate planning documents and ensure that your wishes are recognized.

If you’d like to learn more about living wills, advance health care directives, Power of Attorney for Health Care designations or any other aspects of estate planning. Contact us today to schedule an appointment to discuss your future and we’ll identify together how to best prepare for you and your family.