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Solidify Your Death Care Wishes in a Well Documented Final Disposition

When one of your loved ones passes away, the funeral home will typically begin with one question: has your loved one outlined their death care wishes? The second situation can be deeply unfortunate, especially among divided families, unrecognized marriages, and those who need more space to grieve.

The best way to ensure your funeral goes according to plan is to solidify your death care wishes. Starting with your choice of final disposition. This document is also known as a funeral directive, or disposition of remains directive. Final dispositions have two parts: what to do for a funeral service or remembrance ceremony and how to care for your body once the service is over. 

Here’s everything you should be thinking of as you start planning this aspect of your death care. 


Planning Your Funeral Service or Remembrance Ceremony as Part of Your Final Disposition

There are a lot of decisions to consider when it comes to your funeral or remembrance ceremony. The more decisions you’re able to make, the better.  

In outlining your decisions, you can ensure that your funeral happens how you want, and remove the stress of decision making from your loved ones. Here are some things to consider. 

  • Who has the authority over your remains?
  • Who has the authority to make funeral-related decisions?
  • How much do you want to spend on your funeral?
  • Do you want a wake or viewing? Clothing and makeup?
  • Do you want any religious traditions at your funeral?
  • What type of music do you want played?
  • What type of flowers would you like? 
  • Which photos do you want them to use? 
  • Who do you want to speak? 

Sharing your vision of your death care wishes can make decisions easier for your loved ones. If something does pop up you haven’t anticipated, they already have a specific vision on which to make a decision. 


Caring for Your Body Per Your Death Care Wishes 

The second part of a body disposition is deciding how you want your body cared for. Your budget and values will often determine the following choice. Some common options for death care include terramation, cremation, burial, aquamation (alkaline hydrolysis), or donating your body to science (which generally results in cremation as a final disposition).

It’s important to note that each state has their own policies and laws for body disposition. Do your research ahead of time with your local Department of Licensing, and always make a plan B. You can find more information on regulations in your state on the funeral consumers alliance website. 



Terramation is a “new” option for death care but is a natural process that’s taken place since the beginning of time. During terramation, the body is laid on a bed of straw, alfalfa, and sawdust and placed in a vessel. Then, the vessel is closed and oxygen stimulates microbial activity. The vessel will rise in temperature as high as 160 degrees Fahrenheit, which allows the body to break down in 60 to 90 days. 

The body is screened for inorganic materials (like screws or implants) and then rests for an additional 30 days. At the end of this process, around one cubic yard of material is received by the next-of-kin. 

Return Home offers a unique terramation experience as we’re the only facility that allows your loved ones to visit during the terramation process, like a short-term cemetery. 

The important things to consider for terramation include:

  • What organic materials would you like placed in your vessel? By this we mean personal items to accompany you on your journey. 
  • How would you like your soil to be distributed? 
  • Would you like for friends and family members to have a lay-in service or visit you? 

Terramation is the most sustainable option when it comes to death care. It uses 1/8th of the energy cremation uses. 



Cremation is a process of burning a body until it becomes ash. Here are some things to consider if you’re interested in cremation:

  • Do you want to be seen before cremation? Embalming is often not required and would not inhibit your family’s ability to say a final goodbye.
  • If you do want to be embalmed, it helps the funeral home to have it in writing.
  • Will you need to rent a casket for a funeral service? And if so, which one? 
  • Do you want your loved ones present at your cremation?
  • When it comes to your ashes, who gets them? 
  • Do you need to pick out an urn? 
  • Do you have somewhere you want your ashes scattered or placed?

All of these questions are important to consider if you decide to include cremation in your death care wishes. 



Burials are the second most popular death care option, falling behind cremations over the last fifty years. Burial is the process of burying a body in the ground, typically within an outer burial container and a casket. There are a handful of ways of going about a burial.

First, you’ll need to make a decision on embalming. Embalming stops the natural breakdown of your body and preserves it indefinitely. If you want an open casket in a public forum, embalming might be a good choice. Embalming is not necessary for a burial. In fact, it’s a more sustainable decision to not be embalmed and placed directly into the earth, known as a green burial

Here are some other things you’ll need to include in your final disposition with a burial: 

  • Are you being viewed by the public in your casket? If so, embalming may be necessary.
  • What type of casket do you want? 
  • Would you be interested in being buried in something more sustainable, like a bamboo casket, shroud, or mushroom suit
  • What clothing do you want to be buried in?
  • Where do you want to be buried? Some options depending on region include a cemetery, a VA Cemetery, a burial at sea, at a private property, or family plots in ancient or disused cemeteries. 

Burials are often a popular choice among some religious individuals who believe that the body needs to stay intact once someone has passed away. Though it could be argued that terramation and green burial are the only two options that keep the body completely intact.


Donate Your Body to Science

Some folks as part of their death care wishes want to donate their body, or parts of their body to science upon their death. The first step for this death care option is to find the institution you want to be donated to and check to make sure you’re registered to donate. Every area has specific entities who offer these services, so do your research to find ones that are not-for-profit or do not sell your parts.

Next, make a backup plan, in case for some reason you are not eligible or they stop taking donations. Backup plans can alleviate stress for loved ones when unexpected issues arise. 


Aquamation (Alkaline Hydrolysis)

Aquamation, or Alkaline Hydrolysis, is a process that uses chemicals and heat to dissolve your body into liquid by use of water and agitation. The liquid is drained, stored in a container, or used for areas in need of restoration. The remains are returned just like cremated remains, as ground bone, but are much more powdery and white in appearance. You can also expect about 25% more remains than a standard cremation, so not all urns will work after this process.

While it is a more sustainable option compared to cremations and burials, because of it’s water use, it is still not as sustainable as Terramation. 


End Your Final Disposition with a Little Love

Last, once you’ve made all these decisions, it can be a good idea to include a letter to your loved one. Or, you can create a video for them to watch when they get to this document. It can be helpful to hear your voice and wishes, or have a handwritten note filled with your personality to carry these things out.


What happens if I don’t outline my death care wishes?

The beautiful and unfortunate truth is that when you pass away, your loved ones will be grieving your departure. Grief can make decisions difficult – even simple ones. 

By making many of the decisions when it comes to your death care wishes ahead of time, they will have a map to navigate the decisions. This will leave more room for them to process their grief and celebrate your life with those closest to you. 

It’s also important to us to note that for LGBTQA+ community members, not outlining death care wishes can be tragic. Especially in states that don’t recognize your union with your partner. Often, the appointed next-of-kin in these states is a blood family member. This may be fine, but also may not be depending on your relationship with your family, and their relationship with your partner. 

Without concrete documents that outline your death care wishes, you won’t have control over how you’re represented in places like your obituary. Unless your partner is your spouse, they will likely not have control over your remains. And, they won’t have a say in the manner of your funeral or anything that takes place after you pass. A final disposition is an important way to give power and agency to your life partner in the face of tragedy. 

Learn more about the Importance of Funeral Pre-Planning


A Death Care Plan is Peace of Mind for Your Loved Ones

Once you have all of this information prepared, the final step is to discuss your death care wishes with the person or people you want to carry them out. While this conversation may be intimidating at first, you will be giving your loved one peace of mind by providing them with a blueprint of what you want in terms of death care. 

If you’re ready to start your final disposition, 

Additional reading suggestions: 

How a Funeral Service Works

What to do When Someone Dies (Checklist)

Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning


Sources: pldnSite=1

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