Many famous people have specified their wishes for their funerals in their wills. Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry requested that his ashes be sent to a satellite orbiting Earth. His remains were sent into space on a memorial flight in 1997.

In contrast, famed author Charles Dickens asked that no public announcement be made of the time or place of my burial.” His wishes on this matter were completely ignored, as hundreds of thousands of people walked past his grave in Westminster Abbey in the days before his funeral.

Though these requests are poetic, when placed in a will, they are not actually enforceable. Last wills and testaments are meant for the dispersal of your estate and your property. As your body is not property, it is not part of your estate and your wishes concerning its disposition cannot be enforced by a probate court. In addition, since wills are often not read until weeks after the death of the author of the will, putting your wishes in the will may not be helpful to your survivors.

What can I do to ensure that my remains are handled according to my wishes?

However, under Washington state law, a person does have the right to control the disposition of his or her own remains without the predeath or a post-death consent of another person. Though this information should not be put in a will, a legally binding document can be created by a person writing out her wishes for her funeral and the disposition of her remains and signing it in the presence of a witness. No other person needs to consent to the decedent’s wishes regarding his or her remains either before or after the death for it to be enforceable. Make sure you give copies of this document to your survivors so they have it easily at hand in the event of your death.

If you do not leave a written, witnessed statement about how you wish your remains to be handled after your death, the right to determine what to do with your body goes to another person. If you specifically designate an agent in a written, signed and witnessed document, that person will have control over your remains. Otherwise, your closest surviving relative may have the decision-making authority. In Washington, relatives are given authority over a disposition of remains in this order: the surviving spouse or registered domestic partner, the majority of the decedent’s surviving adult children, the surviving parents, or the majority of the decedent’s surviving siblings.

Keep in mind – Other laws may apply

Other laws may apply to a disposition of your remains. For example, Washington law specifies where cremated remains may be scattered. This could include a National Park, once permission is received from the Chief Park Ranger, or in a specific area of the Pacific Ocean, once U.S. Environmental Protection Agency guidelines are followed. Cremated remains cannot be scattered on private land without the permission of the owner of that land.

Contact a Washington Wills and Trusts Attorney

An experienced wills and trusts attorney can guide you through the process of planning for your death. Contact or call (425) 227-8700 to reach attorney Dan Kellogg at our offices in Kent.