Odd after-death arrangement: how to?
February 5, 2011 9:08 AM   Subscribe

Two questions. How do I write a last will and testament when it involves those I know across the internet? And, how do I ensure that certain...eccentric requests involving my funeral and/or body be carried out?

Following my death, I wish to keep funeral costs to a minimum. Being shoved under the ground sans embalming, being cremated--what would be the best choice?

More importantly--and I mean it when I say "more importantly"--I've got certain arrangements I want carried out before my body is disposed of. I would like to stress before I start that I'm being absolutely serious, and the outlandishness of my request makes sense in a context which I would rather not talk about here.

Alright. Here it goes.

I know three people, A, B, and C, albeit only over the internet. I suppose I could get A's real name and address out of him if I explained the circumstances, but I haven't, at least not yet. Anyway, I would like all of my possessions to be distributed among A, B, and C as they see fit, with two exceptions: My laptop, with everything on it, should go to A...and my preserved brain should go to C.

I would like to stress, again, that I'm being absolutely serious and that it makes sense in context. There's a sort of joke between me and C...

But that's not important. What's important is this: how do I ensure this goes off without a hitch? I would like to surprise C with my preserved brain, but I can't even begin to guess who to speak to about that--I know nothing, not about brains or law or last wills.

I'm hoping you can help me out and not dismiss me as some kind of crank. If it helps, I live on the American west coast.

posted by anonymous to Law & Government (25 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
that's why you designate a "executioner" in your will. & i don't think you can give your "preserved" brain to anyone. IANYM
posted by patnok at 9:20 AM on February 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Where are you located? The U.S. has a number of statutes involving what can and cannot be done with human body parts; you'd need to consult a lawyer just to make sure your wishes wouldn't be stymied post-mortem.

HOWEVER: if I were you, these is an angle I would pursue which would fulfill both your wishes for a cheap funeral AND getting your brain to C.

If it's legally permissible, I would put a section in your will which donates your body to a teaching hospital (no funeral costs, AND promotes education!), WITH THE CAVEAT that your brain must be removed, preserved and couriered to C. You should also include a stipend in the will which will cover the fulfillment of this wish; I'd think $750 or so would be enough to pay for an hour of a medical resident's time, a jar, some formalin and a bike messenger to ferry it to C.
posted by julthumbscrew at 9:22 AM on February 5, 2011

Body disposal instructions don't go in the will; the will isn't typically dealt with until AFTER the body has been disposed of. Make those arrangements separately. I don't actually have any idea who you go to to get your brain preserved and sent to someone, but that's who you need to find. (There may, in fact, be laws about giving away your parts, but you'll have to find out.)

If you want to leave your stuff to A, B, and C, you're probably going to need their real names and addresses. Otherwise your executor will have to try to dig up their names and addresses, which will presumably be more difficult. (And certainly more prone to litigation if you don't use real names in the will.) You may wish to include some procedure by which they decide how to divide your stuff if you're making them divide them up.

Are you sure A, B, and C would want your stuff? Personal items aren't all that desirable; usually only immediate family wants them, and they donate half of it to charity anyway. Perhaps you want to allow A, B, and C to take what they wish, with the rest to be sold or donated, and the proceeds of sale to be divided among A, B, and C to "even up" their shares (so A gets laptop + some jewelry + $2000 for a total of let us say $6000 in goods; B only took a piece of fancy art worth $1500 so would get $4500 cash to even up).

What you're proposing for the will is quite normal and a lawyer can help you set this up with no problem and give you a lot of suggestions of how best to manage it. The body, however, will require some research. And getting the real names and addresses will probably be important.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:23 AM on February 5, 2011

Hire a lawyer, tell him you want him to write your will and serve as an executor, and give him this post. He will raise his eyebrows and accept your check.
posted by Mr. Justice at 9:23 AM on February 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

patnok means "executor" - that's the person who does all the wrangling of things after you die (selling things if they need to be sold, distributing the proceeds, etc.). The executor can be an attorney, but it doesn't have to be. It can be someone you trust, someone you know will carry out your wishes after you die. In either case, these are things that need to be discussed before you die, so that they have the option of bowing out.

I'm not sure that leaving body parts to people (unless it's a medical program) is legal; you will need to talk with a knowledgeable lawyer about that.
posted by rtha at 9:29 AM on February 5, 2011

that's why you designate a "executioner" in your will.

By the time the will's actually in play, it's way too late for an executor.

I know this is really common, not-immediately-helpful advice, but you really do need to talk to a T&E lawyer in your jurisdiction. It won't be a big deal - your requests are very far from the strangest I have ever heard. Still, you cannot get concrete advice on here about what will or will not work.

Good luck!
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:41 AM on February 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

By the time the will's actually in play, it's way too late for an executor.

Crap. I meant, "way too late for an executioner." I am never making a single joke ever again.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:42 AM on February 5, 2011 [29 favorites]

It's an Executor. Please do not name an Executioner; it could get complicated. When you ask somebody to be the Executor, you could also ask them to carry out your funeral arrangements. Many legal firms check obituaries because lawyers are often executors.

You'll have to check out the laws in your state; preserved body parts may or may not be legal. I don't know if a funeral home/embalmer is legally able to do this; I doubt it. Most people are not autopsied. Getting your brain removed is likely to be expensive.

Disposing of a body is not cheap. Cremation is probably cheapest. Do some shopping.
posted by theora55 at 9:42 AM on February 5, 2011

You absolutely need a lawyer. In most states, the law allows you to write your own will without a lawyer, but if your requests are at all unusual, there's a good chance that your estate will become embroiled in legal trouble, and a will written without legal advice will be much less likely to hold up in court. You need to find out whether what you want to do (dispose of your remains in an unusual way, distribute your possessions to people whose names you don't know) is even legal in your state, and if it is legal, how to go about it in a way that will withstand legal scrutiny. No one here can answer those questions for you. You need a lawyer.
posted by decathecting at 10:00 AM on February 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Some states allow green burials- -no embalming, simple pine box that degrades over time- - often on nature preserves.
posted by vitabellosi at 10:30 AM on February 5, 2011

If you don't expect to die in the next few years, perhaps alkaline hydrolysis will be an option in the U.S. by then.
posted by lakeroon at 10:34 AM on February 5, 2011

There is a green cemetery in Westminster, SC that is cheaper than creamation. The gravestones are smooth river rocks, optional caskets are biodegradable and he cemetery itself is like a wooded park. No embalming fluid to pollute the earth.
The only real expense would be transportation to get your body there- because embalming fluid is not used the funeral has to take place pretty quickly.
Their Web site is:
posted by srbrunson at 10:54 AM on February 5, 2011

Entered the Web site but somehow it disappeared...
It is www.memorialecosystems.com.
posted by srbrunson at 10:56 AM on February 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

The will stuff is pretty much standard boilerplate lawyer stuff.

Now! Onto the matter of the mind!

Much of the advice I'm about to give you is very similar to this question about how to donate a skull.

1. Put all of your wishes in writing. Legal rights end at death, but it may save you from the headache of trying to convince the authorities that these were your wishes. (And by "in writing", I'm talking lawyers and all. Close all those loopholes.)

2. A lot of this depends on how you die. If you die unexpectedly or traumatically, most of what you ask for in regards to the brain donation will be impossible. The body breaks down and deteriorates quickly, so your only hope is that you die EXPECTEDLY within a medical facility. Time is of the essence.

3. Call your local coroner's office. Tell them your intentions. They may MAY be willing to remove the brain for you. Especially if you have a coroner with a dark sense of humor. In fact, this is the key. Your local coroner who is in charge at the time of your death can make or break this plan. Again, lawyer up. When you die, arrange for your body to be transported to the coroner's office for a partial autopsy. Except that they will not be trying to determine your cause of death, they will only be removing your brain. Funeral homes are not equipped for this. Special bonesaws are needed to open a skull.

If the coroner's office allows this, but does not want to do this themselves, the family can arrange for a private autopsy. In Louisiana, these generally run about five thousand dollars and are at the discretion of the physician. Make friends with wacky doctors.

4. Storage of the brain is not a big deal. Einstein's brain was preserved in alcohol in two large mason jars within a cider box for over 20 years. I assume a large jar would be the best form of presentation. (There may be additional suggestions here).

And here is the most important part of all of this: make sure that your next of kin (wife, children, parents, siblings...in that order) approve of this. Because no matter how badly you want this to happen, it will not happen if they don't want it to. Your legal rights end at death, and if they don't want to take part in your prank, they can stop it. A dead person cannot file a lawsuit.

Don't put this information in your will, make pre-need plans with a funeral home. As others have said, by the time a will is read, your services are over. The most economical choice for you is cremation. Despite what many folks have guessed at here, medical schools have plenty of bodies and they're not going to take yours, especially if you give them demands. Again, all of this needs to be put down on paper, filed with a lawyer, discussed with your coroner. Good luck to you. This sounds like an awesome plan!
posted by ColdChef at 11:05 AM on February 5, 2011 [15 favorites]

cheaper even than cremation is to have your body donated to a hospital...they pay all charges and your estate pays not a cent.
posted by Postroad at 11:36 AM on February 5, 2011

I can't help with the bulk of your question, but I can help with the cheap body disposal part! Many teaching hospitals, museums and researchers accept body donations. It's generally something that you need to set up ahead of time with the institution and involves a bit of paperwork. The book Stiffed has an appendix with a number of places to look into. When you contact the institutions, ask them whether it's possible to have your brain removed and preserved. Surely at least one of the institutions will be able to accommodate you.
posted by stoneweaver at 12:01 PM on February 5, 2011

Sit down with a lawyer. Seriously.
posted by dougrayrankin at 12:05 PM on February 5, 2011

You can do your own will very simply and inexpensively on the website nolo.com. You just enter your address, state, jurisdiction or whatnot, and answer the questions. Print out your completed testament and sign in the presence of witnesses. I did mine that way. Nobody's challenged it yet. Of course, I'm still alive, haha.

As for your brain, you're on you own. Lawyer? Yes.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 12:07 PM on February 5, 2011

Yeah, I can vouch for ColdChef's statement on not wanting the body, especially with the brain removed, and especially with demands that would create paperwork, disposal and shipping issues. No. You would need a personal friend in anatomic pathology and advance arrangements.

Follow ColdChef's instructions.

You can also get specimen display jars on ebay or etsy. Or make friends with your local natural history curators and ask. You will want the kind that can be periodically topped off with whatever holding solutions you select. Specimens need care and maintenance, and nervous tissue is particularly fragile.
posted by Uniformitarianism Now! at 12:14 PM on February 5, 2011

cheaper even than cremation is to have your body donated to a hospital...they pay all charges and your estate pays not a cent.

I've never heard of a hospital accepting body donations. Do you have any other information on this?

I can't help with the bulk of your question, but I can help with the cheap body disposal part! Many teaching hospitals, museums and researchers accept body donations.

Not as many as you'd think. People always assume that body donation is a matter of filling out some forms, but it's not that easy. They have very specific requirements on the bodies they accept, and acceptance is not guaranteed. I've had plenty of families have bodies rejected and then they're at a loss for what to do with the body. Also: many institutions require you to pay for the eventual cremation of the donated body. Check your paperwork. (If you really want to make sure an institution accepts you, you can either A. Die young and leave a fit, muscular otherwise healthy corpse for them to dissect or B. die of an exotic disease that requires lots of research.) Bottom line: don't assume that someone's going to want your corpse. Especially if it's brainless.
posted by ColdChef at 1:47 PM on February 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

It would be a lot easier for you to obtain a nice preserved brain now, store it lovingly, and just bequeath that. It's still "your" brain.

If C isn't a pathologist, you could even get away with a $16 mailorder sheep brain from Brain Mart.

Say, speaking of pathology, does C want to be surprised with a mailbox full of skullmeat?
posted by Sallyfur at 2:10 PM on February 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'll third ColdChef and Uniformitarianism Now! - cremation is probably your best route, the medical schools don't want you and yes, lawyer up for this.

Prepaid burial plans can be a good idea BUT
do a lot of research into the companies that offer the plans and make sure your money is secured. A great aunt pre-paid for her funeral 15 years before she died and it saved her estate a bundle (almost $20k). Then again, you'll be dead and maybe you won't care.

check to see if your plan will transfer if you move from your current location. All fine well and good to have prepurchased in Town X but if you move and die in Town Y three thousand miles away, your estate will lose all the money you saved just having your body transferred.

Also, check & see if you can get your money back if your feelings and plans change. If you're lost climbing Mt Everest, you'll probably won't need that funeral.

(It's been 20+ years since I worked in the industry so the prepay biz might have changed to be more flexible. Seriously, do some checking if you opt to pre-pay.)
posted by jaimystery at 5:38 PM on February 5, 2011

Ignoring everything else, the point ColdChef makes about next of kin is probably most important.

Someone will have to do all the work you outline in your instructions. If anyone even knows about them or doesn't burn them when they find them, or doesn't notify your lawyer in time. You can NAME an executor, but (afaik) they aren't required to accept the job. Someone will have to pay for it all. And none of that happens if a relative says "pfft, he was nuts" and hauls you off to the Church for a "proper" burial.
posted by gjc at 6:33 PM on February 5, 2011

You could get in touch with Gunther Von Hagen's Institute for Plastination. It probably isn't in the regular scope of their activities, but if you are willing to spend the money on it they might be willing to plastinate your brain for you. Also they take body donations.

Your body could end up in a museum somewhere!
posted by keeo at 8:15 AM on February 6, 2011

Some states allow green burials- -no embalming, simple pine box that degrades over time- - often on nature preserves.

For the record, no US state requires embalming as a general rule (though some have laws requiring embalming in special cases, apparently usually involving infectious disease, or for interstate transport.)
posted by endless_forms at 9:38 AM on February 7, 2011

« Older Why am I under investigation? How worried should I...   |   Superbowl in Portland: where would YOU go? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.