People have many different thoughts and ideas about what should happen to their body upon death. While some are more common than others, it is important for everyone to think about and begin to prepare for what they wish to happen. In this blog, we will discuss some specific scenarios that you may consider for your body after death.
Cremation and scattering ashes
Cremation is now the most common method of disposing of one's remains in Scotland. The person you appoint or your nearest living relative is permitted to deal with your ashes. As long as one gains permission from the landowner, there is no restriction on where you can scatter your ashes in Scotland.
Burial is the other method of disposing of one's remains. It is an offence to bury a body unless it is on a burial ground, such as an approved cemetery, or one applies to and receives permission from the local authority to perform a private burial. Beyond this, there is no legal requirement to be buried in a coffin or casket or to be embalmed.
If you live abroad and wish your body to be returned to the UK, there are some steps your loved ones require to follow. Firstly, they will need to obtain a death certificate from the country where the person died. If the document is not in English, it will need an official translation. They should also inform the British embassy, who will be able to assist. Before the body can be transported, all processes in the country of death will need to be completed. From then, you should be able to gain permission to transport the body back to the UK, usually from the local coroner. A UK-based funeral director will then be able to assist with the repatriation process. Ensure you have a valid passport which is easily to locate as those assisting with your repatriation will need it for identification and travel purposes after your death.
Since March 2021, we now have an opt out system for transplantation, meaning that your organs and tissues will be donated if possible unless you state you do not wish for this to occur; however, if you specifically wish to donate your organs, it is still recommended that you also actively opt in by registering on the NHS Organ Donor Register to provide more certainty.
However, to donate your body to medical research and training, you need to complete an anatomy bequest form, provided by one of the six universities in Scotland. In Scotland, you may only donate your body to one of the six universities, but there is no guarantee they will be able to accept your body. Also, be aware that if your body is able to be both transplanted and donated; a transplantation will be prioritised unless you opt out on the NHS Organ Donor Register. You should both record these wishes in your will and discuss with your loved ones in advance.
Legalisation of other methods
In recent years, there has been an increasing push and conversation around the legalisation of other methods of disposing of one's remains. Particularly, with increasing environmental concerns, people wish to have alternatives that use less fuel and emissions than cremation and less land and chemicals than burial. North America, particularly the Pacific North West, has pioneered the creation and legalisation of these new methods. Aquamation is one such a method which liquifies all remains except for one's bones. It is thought that this was performed on Desmond Tutu's remains in early 2022. There is also recomposition, which is a process where bodies are assisted in naturally decomposing, turning your remains into about a cubic yard of nutrient-dense soil.
While these methods are not currently legalised, they may be in the future. It is possible for your will to state your preference from one of these methods and to provide a back up option should it not be legalised at the time of your death.
If you would like to gain specific advice on making arrangements for your body upon death, including to review your existing will and/or letter of wishes or to put a new will/letter of wishes in place, please get in touch with your usual Brodies contact.