How to Handle Remains in Washington State – Part I

disposition of remains

Death is a part of life. Like taxes, there’s no avoiding it. Also, like taxes, you may not like thinking or talking about the subject. However, if you think about death and how to handle your remains from a planning perspective, and how it can work into your estate plan specifically, you will see how some attention during your life can ensure two crucial outcomes. The first is that your wishes will be honored. And the second, that your grieving family won’t have to make difficult decisions, at least about this, during what is already a difficult time.

In Part I of “How to Handle Remains in Washington State,” you will learn about what your rights are in terms of planning for the disposition of your remains while you are alive, what document can help you achieve your goals, and who will decide what will happen to your remains if you don’t plan for their disposition in advance. In Part II, you will learn about what options for disposition are available to you in Washington State. Since there is a lot of information to absorb, let us get started with some basics. 

You have the right to plan for what happens after you die.

There is no automatic procedure in Washington State for what happens to your remains when you die. The power is yours, at least while you are still living. So, if you have specific thoughts about how you would like your remains handled, the time to speak up is the present.

Even better is if you make these decisions in conjunction with creating a new estate plan or updating your existing one to account for any changes in your life. Those changes can include marriage, divorce, or the birth of a child or grandchild.

A lot of people ignore the choices available to them. However, the alternatives are important to consider because what happens to your remains after you die can affect your family members, not to mention Earth, for years to come.

Lack of information about what happens to your remains and the impact your remains have on the environment is rampant; however, you can make an informed choice by researching your options before you die. You will also save your loved ones from having to make a decision on your behalf, which may not be apparent to them. Or worse still, a decision that is clear to some family members and not to others, causing divisiveness.

Families don’t want to make choices when they are grieving. And if, by chance, you do not care, document that too, saving your family the worry of having to decide what they think you would have wanted. Give the gift to your family of a free range of decision-making without guilt.

How do you make a choice about disposition?

According to statute, you must make any choices regarding the disposition of your remains through a written expression, what we refer to as a Declaration of Disposition of Remains (DDR). For a DDR to be valid, you must sign it in front of a witness. It also must clearly state your instructions.

The purpose of a DDR is to make sure your wishes will be easily accessible to your family at or before your death. If you include your wishes in your will, you run the risk that your family won’t be able to find it or won’t have access to it until it is too late. These are decisions the family of the deceased must make long before probate.

As you will read in Part II of “How to Handle Remains in Washington State, some means of disposing of remains are more timely than others, sometimes as short as 24 hours. Therefore, it is better to include your wishes about your remains in a DDR and share that with your health care proxy or the person to whom you assign a power of attorney or whoever you appoint to carry out any wishes you have about your remains.    

Who gets to decide?

The task of deciding what happens to your remains once you die will rest with one person or a group of people. They will include those listed below in the following order. 

  • Whoever you choose in your DDR
  • For military personnel, whoever you name in the U.S. Dept. of Defense Record
  • Your surviving spouse
  • If you are unmarried and die without a DDR, the majority of your surviving children (potentially problematic because they have to agree)
  • If you are unmarried and have no children, your parents
  • If you are unmarried, have no children, and have no parents, the majority of your siblings (potentially problematic because they have to agree)
  • The most responsible person that is available (this leaves a lot to chance)

Conclusion

Again, as you can see by the preceding discussion and the above list, including the problems some of the choices raise, your best bet is to make your wishes known in advance. The idea is to leave as little up to chance as possible. Though you can’t control your death, you can control what happens after it, the subject of Part II coming soon. To speak with one of our estate planning attorneys, call us today.

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