Green Burial

An important aspect of estate planning is planning your funeral or celebration of life service after you have passed. Having a pre-determined funeral plan can ease the financial and emotional burden on your loved ones after you are gone. While traditional funerals are still popular, natural burials (aka ‘green’ burials) have risen in popularity over the past decade. In fact, over 53% of Americans surveyed in a 2017 poll by the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) stated they were interested in exploring natural burial options.

There are several reasons you may choose a natural burial. Natural burials are more environmentally friendly than traditional burials, and they can be better for the environment than cremation. Traditional burials use embalming chemicals such as formaldehyde, which can leak into soil and groundwater as bodies decompose. Natural burials avoid the embalming process entirely, which limits the amount of pollutants to the environment. You may also be interested in a natural burial for religious reasons. Traditional Jewish and Islamic law forbids embalming, and cremation has been historically disfavored by certain sects of Christianity.

There are several types of natural burials. The most common type of natural burial is a ground burial with no embalming procedures conducted on the body. The body may be buried in a wooden casket or simply wrapped in a shroud. Some natural burial organizations also offer tree burial pods, in which the body is entombed in a pod underneath a tree. Natural burial organizations sometimes offer natural cremations, which do not use environmentally harmful chemicals in the cremation process.

Less common types of natural burials include sky burials, in which the body is left exposed at high elevation and fed to vultures; burial at sea, in which the body is disposed in the ocean; and coral reef burials, in which cremated remains are placed inside coral reef balls to provide new habitat for fish and other sea creatures. There is also an alternative to flame cremation called alkaline hydrolysis, in which the body is dissolved in lye as opposed to combusted.

In Missouri, natural burials are regulated by statute and by the Missouri Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors. Missouri requires bodies to be embalmed or frozen if not buried or cremated within twenty-four hours, but Missouri has no laws explicitly banning natural burials. Additionally, a casket is not required for burial in Missouri, and Missouri has also not banned alkaline hydrolysis. Burials at sea and coral reef burials are federally regulated but allowed by the EPA.

Because natural burials are becoming more popular, legislation concerning natural burials is changing. Minnesota recently imposed a two-year moratorium on natural burials over concerns regarding water pollution and wildlife digging up remains. In Colorado, police recently discovered 115 improperly stored and decaying bodies at a green funeral home, raising concerns about proper body handling and storage. While natural burials are permitted in most states, the industry may continue to be more heavily regulated as it faces increased scrutiny.

If you are considering a natural burial, it is important to discuss your wishes with your loved ones and an estate planning attorney. You should have your end-of-life plans prepared to ease the burden on your loved ones after you pass away, and speaking with an attorney can help you draft estate planning documents that clearly outline your wishes and comply with state and federal law. TuckerAllen can help you plan for a natural burial in your estate planning documents if you are interested in pursuing natural burial options. To book an appointment, please call 314-335-1100 or book online at