An integral part of estate planning is ensuring that all bases are covered.  Meaning, we want you to have the proper documents in place to protect you during your lifetime (powers of attorney), as well as after your death (Trust and/or Will).  When clients come in for their initial consultation, they expect that the bulk of our discussion will relate to the post death administration of their estate, so it comes as a surprise to some clients, when we ask their thoughts on issues like autopsy, burial vs. cremation and organ donation.  We’re not just being nosey, we use this information as we draft your Healthcare Power of Attorney.  When you provide guidance on these issues, it reduces the likelihood of familial litigation after your death.

Autopsy.  Under Arizona law, you are not required to have an autopsy at your death.  Therefore, you can guide your Agent in your healthcare power of attorney as they make the autopsy decision.  You may choose to consent to an autopsy, not consent to an autopsy, or you may allow your Agent to decide.    Regardless of your preferences, an autopsy may be required when you have a “suspicious” death and a County or other government official overrides your decision.  The autopsy may help in an investigation into your cause of death.  Identifying your autopsy preferences relieves your Agent of any unnecessary stress as you’ve provided him or her instruction within the Healthcare Power of Attorney.

Burial vs. Cremation.  In Arizona, if your preference is to be cremated, but you do not make pre-death arrangements for your cremation nor did you include specific cremation language in your Healthcare Power of Attorney then you run the risk of not being cremated at your death.  This is because the default manner of disposition is burial.  In this profession, it is not uncommon to hear about Mom or Dad passing away and to learn that before death they informed their child(ren) of their preference to be cremated.  However, when it came time to make the arrangements, one child did not consent to the cremation.  Because there was not a unanimous decision to make the cremation, legally, the cremation cannot occur.  In extreme circumstances, an expensive court battle among the children plays out while Mom or Dad resides in the morgue.  At that point, a judge may be called to determine how their Mom or Dad should be disposed. Had Mom or Dad put this in writing, either by pre-planning with the funeral home or cremation agency or providing instruction in his or her Healthcare Power of Attorney, then this outcome could have been avoided and family relationships hopefully would be preserved.

Anatomical Gifts.  In Arizona, like any other state, you may be an organ and tissue donor, or donate your body.  There is no age limit or health requirement to be an anatomical donor.  After death, you will be medically evaluated to determine what, if any, donations you could make.  Your willingness to be such a donor may be listed on your drivers license, as well as within your Healthcare Power of Attorney.  Organ Donation is a great thing, but what some people don’t realize is what purposes their body may be used for.

Body Donation: You may make arrangements with a cadaver or anatomical donation company during your lifetime.  Upon your death, your loved ones will contact the company who will handle all logistics from that point forward.  After your body has fulfilled its purpose, in most situations your remains will then be cremated and returned to your loved ones.

While extremely rare, your donation could also go to the extreme.  The following are real uses for body donation:

  • Crash Tests. While many dummies are used to study vehicle and aviation safety, sometimes human bodies are used in simulated crashes, as they provide more precise statistics for researchers.
  • Forensic research at the body farm. The body farm spans about 1.3 acres at the University of Tennessee’s Anthropology Research Facility.  There, your body donation will hang out for days, weeks or even months in setups ranging from ladders to old cars to being buried or submerged in water.  Students and law enforcement agencies are given one body per week to analyze for human decomposition.
  • On tour with the Body Worlds Exhibit. Currently the exhibit is housed at the Luxor Hotel in Las Vegas, and periodically goes on tour throughout the United States.  Your donation could provide a glimpse at real, full-bodies and organs, showing a three-dimensional vision of the human form that is rarely seen.
  • Become a Skeleton. Your skeletal remains may be fashioned together and sent to a school for education.

Organ and Tissue Donation: If you choose to be a donor, we will ask several more, somewhat intrusive, questions about the donation that you are graciously willing to make.

If you consent to being an organ donor, without restrictions, this means any organ or any portion thereof may be used.  Your donation may include your corneas, skin, bones, organs or tissues.  If you cringe at the thought of becoming a skin donor or eye donor, then let us know, we can draft this language to omit certain organs or tissues or alternatively, only permit the donation of specific organs.

In addition to your donation, there are many different purposes your organs may be used for.  If you provide that your donation is for transplant or therapeutic purposes, then your donation goes to another person to help improve or cure their health issues.

If you instead provide that your donation is for any purpose, then you could be used for transplant, as well as research.  Your body, organs, tissues or portions thereof will be sent to a laboratory for education, experiments and research.  Your generous donation may help find a cure to an incurable disease!

If you wish to be an organ donor, you may want to consider your options.  While it is unlikely you could be used for the more extreme purposes, as you would need to make specific arrangements for these purposes prior to death, you may want to discuss with your family as to the type of donation you are willing to make.  A Healthcare Directive that contains information regarding your post death disposition takes the weight off your loved ones and reduces the likelihood of inter-familial arguments.  As your estate planning attorney, we stand ready to assist you as you make these difficult decisions.

-Rachel S. Zaslow, Esq.