What Happens To My Body After Death?

You have the right to control how your remains are disposed without the consent of any other person.  To create binding funeral instructions, one must write those instructions, and then sign the instructions in the presence of one witness.  RCW 68.50.160(1).  If you have made pre-arrangements with a licensed funeral establishment or cemetery authority, your survivors cannot change those arrangements.  RCW 68.50.160(2).

As a practical matter, burial arrangements are an issue about which survivors sometimes fight.  You will want to share your funeral instructions with those you expect to be your survivors in order to head off such conflicts, which usually emerge from misinformed opinions about your wishes upon death.

If you leave no funeral instructions and do not make pre-arrangements for the disposition of your remains, or if the cost of the funeral arrangements you have prescribed exceeds a “reasonable amount,” then the right to determine how your remains shall be disposed, as well as the responsibility to pay for those arrangements (RCW 68.50.160(6)), falls to the following persons in the order named:  1) surviving spouse or state registered domestic partner, 2) surviving adult children, 3) surviving parents, 4) surviving siblings, 5) a person acting as representative of the decedent under signed authorization from the decedent.  RCW 68.50.160(3).  If a cemetery authority or funeral establishment is unable to find persons on this list of responsible parties, then that cemetery or funeral home in control of your body may rely on the “most responsible party available” for instructions.  RCW 68.50.160(5).