Self-Directed Disposition Of Human Remains In Washington State
Pursuant to RCW 68.50.160, a person has the right to direct how his or her remains are disposed after death. “Directing” such disposition is best accomplished in writing which includes a description of the method of disposition (i.e. burial, cremation, donation for purposes of research etc.). The written instructions should be signed and dated while being witnessed by at least one person (over the age of 18, of sound mind, and not in any way beneficially interested in the matter). Such arrangements are generally not modifiable by survivors and a licensed funeral home or cemetery authority generally bears no criminal or civil liability for following such authorized directions.
When a person has not expressed such direction nor nominated an individual to be responsible for such arrangements, disputes can arise amongst the survivors as to who has the right to make disposition decisions and arrangements. The Washington statute attempts to clarify such disputes. The statute provides an order of priority demonstrating who holds the rights to make disposition decisions and arrangements: 1) Surviving spouse or registered domestic partner; 2) The majority of the surviving adult children (natural born or adopted) of the decedent; 3) Surviving parents of the decedent; 4) The majority of the surviving siblings of the decedent; 5) Court appointed guardian of the person serving as such at the time of the decedent’s death. One important caveat: individuals arrested or charged with first- or second-degree murder, or first-degree manslaughter in connection with the decedent’s death are disqualified from directing the disposition of the decedent’s remains.
Additionally, the statute provides responsibility for payment of the disposition of remains upon “… all kin of the decedent in the same degree of kindred…” and in the order referenced above, and upon the decedent’s estate.
What should I do?
For those who feel strongly about the disposition of their own remains, such directions should be carefully expressed as outlined above. For those who do not feel strongly, nominating a persona to make such decisions usually avoids disputes and confusion.
Losing a loved one is one of the most stressful times in life, and making decisions is often more difficult during such a stressful period. If you have questions, the lawyers at Beresford Booth stand prepared to provide guidance and practical assistance in your time of need.