Have you thought about how “Green” your burial will be?

Green burial

Families facing the loss of a loved one are often comforted knowing that the decedent’s end-of-life wishes were honored. Whether the decedent requested burial, cremation, or anatomical donation, that choice is uniquely their own and helps the decedent’s family to heal. Green burial is an end-of-life choice that is gaining popularity by those who are uncomfortable with cremation.  Green burials involve a different process of body preparation, a greener funeral, and greener burial practice. Green burials allow a body to decompose naturally without chemicals or concrete. Green burials are eco-friendly alternatives to traditional burials that often reduce funeral costs by up to 50%.

The Green Burial Council (“Council”), an entity that certifies providers as green burial-friendly, approved over 300 funeral homes, cemeteries, and product providers across the United States.  Green burials may occur in different forms. A person may elect to be buried in a green casket or shroud, in a green cemetery, or by marking a grave with a green headstone.  Green burials are legal but it is important to understand state and local laws surrounding burials.

Federal Law

The Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) enacted two important guidelines and regulations relating to green burials.  First, the Funeral Rule, which requires funeral homes to accept caskets that have been purchased by consumers from other sources. Additionally, all funeral homes in the United States must offer a direct burial, which  generally includes a casket made from modest wood or cardboard without embalming the decedent’s remains, followed by burial in a cemetery within 24 hours.

Second, the FTC released guidelines that promote green burial services by defining green words to avoid misleading consumers. For instance, “biodegradable,” “compostable” and “recycled” are defined by the FTC, which prevents funeral homes from advertising these words without meeting certain standards.

State Law NJ

Green burials are legal in New Jersey.  The Green Burial Council certified nine green burial funeral homes in New Jersey.  In New Jersey, a decedent’s remains must be embalmed before it is shipped via a plane or train and it will not reach its destination within 24 hours. Additionally, while caskets are not required in the state for burial or cremation, cemeteries may require a certain type of casket that green burial providers do not.

Home burials are permitted if the local health department does not deem the burial dangerous to public health. New Jersey Statutes 26:6-5 and 5.1 require a burial permit before burying a body on private land.

State Law FL

According to Florida Statute § 497.386, a decedent’s remains must be embalmed or refrigerated if final disposition does not occur within 24 hours. Similar to New Jersey, there is no law requiring a casket for burial or cremation in Florida. There is also no state law that prohibits burial on private property and families may establish cemeteries on land less than two acres as long as city zoning ordinances are honored.

Alkaline hydrolysis or “flameless cremation” is a green burial option specific to Florida and 18 other states. Alkaline hydrolysis is a green alternative to cremation which involves a chemical process that reduces a body to liquid and bone. This process uses less energy than cremation and does not release greenhouse gases.

Green Burial Planning

Taking initiative now may avoid stress and heartache to your family members after you pass away. Speak with your family members candidly about your end-of-life wishes. If you choose to include your wishes in your will, please be aware that estate and probate proceedings often occur after a funeral, which would make your effort to convey your wishes in a Will futile. A separate “Final Arrangements” or “Funeral Wishes” document may be created to address end-of-life wishes. An estate planning attorney may help you to carry out your end-of-life wishes.

If you require assistance in preparing an estate plan or if you have other legal inquiries, please contact Michael Salad via e-mail at msalad@cooperlevenson.com or via direct dial at (954) 889-1850.

Michael Salad is a partner in Cooper Levenson’s Business & Tax and Cyber Risk Management practice groups. He concentrates his practice on estate planning, business transactions, mergers and acquisitions, tax matters and cyber risk management. Michael holds an LL.M. in Estate Planning and Elder Law. Michael is licensed to practice law in New Jersey, Florida, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland and the District of Columbia.

Samantha Edgell is a Summer Associate in Cooper Levenson’s Atlantic City, New Jersey office.