Preplan a green funeral in 4 steps
Preplanning helps ecofriendly natural burials go smoother
By Audrey Carleton
While you’re saying goodbye to a loved one, you’re generally not thinking about how the funeral may be affecting the environment. But the average funeral and burial can create environmental impacts — from the damage formaldehyde poses to soil to the space caskets take up in the earth.
Fortunately, if you’re looking to minimize your carbon footprint when you pass, you can opt for a green funeral — an increasingly popular funeral planning trend — and preplanning an ecofriendly green service is easier than you think.
What is a green burial?
Green burials are the environmentally friendly counterparts to traditional burials.
“A natural burial itself means no embalming, biodegradable burial containers, no concrete vaults; essentially go back to the earth as we came from it,” said Ed Bixby, director of the Green Burial Council. “You’re protecting the environment; you’re restoring it for future generations; and you’re embracing the life lived by that person and being part of that final act of kindness to them.”
Preplanning a green service
According to Bixby, preplanning is especially important for a green burial because loved ones may find it more challenging to carry out than a traditional burial. By arranging all the details of your green funeral in advance, you can ensure that your life will be celebrated in exactly the way you’d like.
While the preplanning process may seem daunting, you only need to list your priorities for your green service and arrange them with a funeral director. If you don’t want to leave the costs of your green funeral to your family, you can set up a Preneed Funeral insurance or Final Expense insurance plan.
Step 1: Write down your green funeral wishes
Finding a location for your green burial may seem simple, but only a handful of locations across the United States permit them. The Green Burial Council's list of providers not only lists green cemeteries, but it includes a number of hybrid cemeteries that allow both traditional and green burials. If possible, choose a location close to your loved ones to cut down on carbon emissions from car, train, or air travel to your resting place.
Keep in mind, green cemeteries operate with the goal of replenishing the earth through each burial. That means they don’t allow vaults, non-biodegradable caskets, or embalming chemicals to be planted into the earth. They also don’t use herbicides, pesticides, or irrigation to maintain their grounds.
According to Bixby, the most environmentally friendly way to put a body to rest is to do so without embalming or cremating it. Embalming’s toxic formaldehyde releases into the soil, and the cremation process requires an estimated 200 gallons of propane and emits greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. An alternative is having your body refrigerated for approximately five days before being buried naturally, without chemicals. If you prefer embalming, consider using biodegradable materials, such as essential oils, which will preserve the body for a few weeks.
Coffins made from wicker, papier mâché, or locally sourced, sustainable wood are greener options than traditional steel or timber caskets, which are resource-intensive and don’t break down naturally when placed underground. Bixby suggests being buried in cotton or muslin clothing because they biodegrade over time. In lieu of a headstone, you can mark your grave with a tree or shrub.
Green funeral service
You can cut down the environmental impacts of your funeral service in a number of ways, such as having your guests carpool to the service to cut down on fossil fuel emissions and serving food on biodegradable or reusable dishes. You can research the environmental harms of a typical funeral service and make a list of alternative methods for your green service.
Step 2: Make your funeral arrangements with a funeral home
After making a list of priorities for your green funeral, set up a preplanning appointment with a local funeral director and remember to ask these questions.
Personal facts and information
The funeral director will need personal facts to create your death certificate and obituary upon your passing. Details will range from your birth date and location to names of your family members.
Green service details
The funeral director will review your green service wish list with you. It should include how and where you’d like to be buried; the readings, poems, and passages you’d like read at your green funeral; how you’d like your plot to be marked; and more. The funeral director will provide an estimate of the costs and explain payment options.
Step 3: Arrange funeral payment details
To Bixby, paying for your funeral entirely in advance is the best way to take the burden off your family and ensure that your wishes are executed exactly as you want.
“If you prearrange, and it’s paid for, people don’t have many opinions. They just say, ‘You know what, it’s paid for. It’s great. We don’t have to worry about it. It’s done,’” Bixby says. “So prearrange for peace of mind.”
After establishing your funeral plans and costs, your next step is to establish a plan for paying for them.
Preneed Funeral insurance
Also referred to as “burial insurance,” Preneed insurance covers all the pre-determined expenses of your green funeral. This option will require you to enter into a contract with the funeral home. Before making any decisions or signing any contracts, make sure the funeral home you’re working with respects your preplanning rights. The Preneed plan typically holds the funeral expenses at present-day costs, regardless of inflation by the time of death, and the total can be paid up front in one payment or in installments over time.
Final Expense insurance
This option not only covers the costs of your green burial and service, but it also covers any expenses your loved ones may face following your passing. These can include outstanding medical or credit card bills, estate taxes, legal fees, and living expenses. However, it doesn’t retain preplanned funeral costs at present-day amounts.
Step 4: Create a notification list
When you’ve finished preplanning, tell a trusted individual, such as your spouse, an adult child, or a close friend, your plan exists and how to find it with your other estate planning documents. To further ease their burden, create a list of contacts to be notified after your passing, such as:
The funeral home will need to be contacted to set your plans into motion and use your Preneed Funeral insurance to cover costs, if you have a policy with them.
In addition to providing support to one another, family will need to discuss the timing of your prearrangements and coordinate with the green cemetery you’ve selected for your ecofriendly burial.
Getting the word out about green funeral arrangements will be necessary, and friends can spread the word to others, removing the burden from your spouse and children.
Executor or successor trustee
The person you’ve chosen as executor of your will or successor trustee of your living trust may be the same person you’ve entrusted with details of your green funeral plan. Regardless, he or she will ensure that your assets are properly handled. This may include paying for funeral services with your Final Expense insurance.
If you have a trusted attorney, be sure to include his or her name on the notification list. The executor will need assistance to navigate probate, if necessary, and other legal matters involved in fulfilling your green funeral wishes.
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