This is the third and final post in our Halloween estate planning series. To read part one on the disposition of remains and organ donation versus organ harvesting, click here. To read part two on methods of transporting human remains, click here.

Historically, burial has been the most popular method of body disposal in the U.S. It is also now one of the most expensive. Beyond just the transportation of remains, you need to consider the price of a plot, casket, burial vault, grave marker, gravesite care, and even a grave digger—so these fees can start to add up. A bare-bones ceremony may cost only a few thousand dollars, but many families spend upwards of $10,000 to $20,000 on their loved one’s final burial arrangements.

As a result, more and more Americans are looking towards cremation as a cheaper alternative to burial. The average price for cremation is around $2,500, but of course this can vary widely by the state you’re in and the provider you use. A permanent urn may then run you anywhere from an additional $100 to $500.

A good resource for those interested in cremation is the Neptune Society. They offer pre-planning services with monthly payments and extensive free guides on their crematory processes.

More recently, while Jerry Brown was acting governor of California, he signed into effect AB-967 to address alkaline hydrolysis. Otherwise known as “water cremation” or “aquamation,” this method of body disposal uses alkaline water to essentially dissolve soft tissues. The remaining bones are crushed into ash, much like cremains are, but it’s considered more environmentally friendly. It will not be available to the public until next July.

If you’re looking to curb the costs associated with your death, you may consider some form of body donation. You can sign up with Science Care’s California Donor Registry or read up on the positive impacts of body donation if you’d like to be more informed.

When your remains are studied in a research program (such as the Mayo Clinic), they will generally return your cremated remains within a few years. Your loved ones can choose to pay for a casket and plot at that time if they would prefer a traditional burial. Payment will never be given in exchange for body donation because it’s illegal.

Alternatively, you may look into donating yourself to a body farm. The first and most robust farm in the country is at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. They do not return your remains to your family, and they generally will not embalm or cremate what’s left in order to preserve your skeletal remains for future teaching purposes. Again, no payment will be made to your family in exchange for this donation. You will also likely need to pay for your own transportation to the site.

While we don’t have our own body farm in Southern California yet, there is interest from forensic anthropologists at California State University, Los Angeles to start one.

Happy planning, and happy Halloween!


The information on this website is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this site should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship. Brittany Britton is licensed to practice law in the state of California only.