man there sure are a lot of government rules that you have to obey when you die!

How to find eternal rest on own terms

Jan. 24, 2006 12:00 AM

The guy who submitted today's question didn't say where he lived so to give a complete answer I'd have to call every city hall around, and, as you know, I am far too lazy for anything like that. But I do have a partial answer. This guy is a doctor, and this is his question:

Our approach to death and getting rid of our bodies varies by culture, geography and time. It is interesting, but what most of us do doesn't make a lot of sense to me. Are there state laws or regulations that would prevent my wishes to be buried in a pine box, without being embalmed, under a tree on my property?

I put this matter to Rudy Thomas, executive director of the Arizona Board of Funeral Directors and Embalmers, and he said that if you want to be buried in your own back yard that's OK with the state of Arizona, but you have to meet a few guidelines.

First of all, you have to call city and county officials to find out if there are any local rules against this. Chances are that there are not, but you need to check.

Second, you have to tack an addition onto your deed that says where you are in the back yard. For instance, you have to record the fact that you're planted, say, 6 feet deep on the west side of the fig tree, 4 feet from the northwest corner of the property. That's so the next owners don't get a nasty surprise if they decide to put in a pool or something.

Next, you're going to have to get something called a disposition report that more or less says you're dead and what the survivors did with you. I think a funeral home could help you with that. Or maybe your lawyer. I don't know.

It would be helpful if you could arrange not to die of any nasty infectious diseases, such as smallpox or diphtheria or something like that. If you do, I'm pretty sure you have to be cremated or embalmed.

As for embalming, there is generally no rule that says you have to be. However, unless you can make all these arrangements in a real hurry, you're going to have to clear out some space in your chest freezer. Or else buy a lot of ice. The law says that if you're not cremated or embalmed within 24 hours of the time you join the choir eternal you have to be refrigerated at 38 degrees or lower.

Maybe you should run all this by your lawyer, but those are the rules as best I know. Good luck. I hope it works out for you, but that it doesn't work out for you any time soon.

Reach Thompson at or (602) 444-8612.

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