Burial or cremation? For centuries, these have been the only two options for what to do with your body when you die. But now these options are starting to change, and expand. Gizmodo recently highlighted 8 Designs that Rethink the Way We’re Buried, looking at how innovative thinkers are changing burial methods. 

This article was inspired by Designboom’s “Design for Death” competition. Designboom pushed innovators to inspire and change the way our culture looks at traditional methods of interment—namely, burial and cremation. Rather than just put ashes into a plain urn, these artists came up with inventive ideas such as shooting them up in a weather balloon or transforming them into a wind chime.

One of the featured innovators is M.I.T. research fellow Jae Rhim Lee. She has invented the Mushroom Death Suit in an attempt to filter out the hundreds of chemicals that every person has in his or her body that seep into the earth when a body decomposes. The Suit is a cotton bodysuit covered in mushroom spores stitched in an arrangement replicating mushrooms’ natural growing pattern. The idea is that when a person dies, her body can be covered in "a ‘cocktail’ of elements which facilitate decomposition and toxin remediation," placed into the suit, and placed in a natural environment to become a patch of mushrooms—and ultimately healthy, chemical-free compost.

Lee says:

“Imagine the Infinity Mushroom as a new way of thinking about death and the relationship between the body and the environment…steps towards accepting the fact that someday I will die and decay…a step toward taking the responsibility towards my own burden on the planet.”

What’s most impressive to me about the Mushroom Death Suit (and all the other competition entries) is number of people who competed, and what their efforts symbolize. The competitors weren’t funeral industry professionals—they’re artists and designers, people who think about the way we live. And they’re pushing for society to accept that it’s time break away from the status quo when it comes to death, and questioning not only how we live, but also how we die. This competition, and the incredible ideas and prototypes it inspired, is a step towards exposing society to more options when it comes to our futures.

via Gizmodo

What happens to your Gmail when you die? What happens to all the photos you've shared on Facebook? Who gets your text messages? And who can access your online accounts?

The more of our lives we spend online, the more digital property we collect, and the more complicated settling our estates will be in the future. And so we need to create digital estate plans for three main reasons:

  1. To communicate our wishes, and let our families know what we want done with our digital assets when we're gone
  2. To help our families, so that they can quickly and easily access our important digital assets when the time comes
  3. To preserve our digital legacy, and make sure that the treasured memories and personal imprints that we leave online can be saved

Everplans now has a suite of articles and tools to help you get started creating your digital estate plan:

We hope that these new articles will help you as you begin to think about digital estate planning and actually create a plan for yourself and your family. If you have any feedback, we'd love to hear from you in the comments below.

Today, the US Supreme Court ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), signed into law by President Clinton in 1996, is unconstitutional. At the core of the case was the issue of whether DOMA violates equal protection rights that are guaranteed in the Fifth Amendment's "due process" clause, and whether the federal government can deny Social Security, tax, health care, pension, and veterans' benefits (among others) to same-sex couples in states where they can legally be married.

And what was the impetus for the case? Estate taxes. According to CNN:

The key plaintiff is Edith "Edie" Windsor, 84, who married fellow New York resident Thea Spyer in Canada in 2007, about 40 years into their relationship. By the time Spyer died in 2009, New York courts recognized same-sex marriages performed in other countries. But the federal government didn't recognize Windsor's same-sex marriage, and she was forced to assume an estate tax bill much larger than those that other married couples would have to pay. So, Windsor sued the federal government.

So what does all this mean going forward? According to Deborah Jacobs at Forbes.com, for one thing, same-sex couples will now be able to take advantage of the "unlimited marital deduction" that heterosexual couples have, which allows spouses to transfer money to each other, during life or in a will (after death), without having to pay any estate taxes or gift taxes on inheritance that exceeds the tax-free amount ($5.25 million over the course of a lifetime). Jacobs goes on to say:

In its decision, the Court gave examples of ways that “DOMA touches many aspects of married and family life, from the mundane to the profound,” creating financial burdens for same-sex couples by:

  • Preventing them from obtaining government healthcare benefits they would otherwise receive;
  • Depriving them of the Bankruptcy Code’s special protec­tions for domestic-support obligations;
  • Forcing them to follow a complicated procedure to file their state and federal taxes jointly;
  • Prohibiting them from being buried together in veterans’ cemeteries;
  • Raising the cost of health care for families by taxing health benefits provided by employers to their workers’ same-sex spouses;
  • Denying or reducing benefits allowed to families upon the loss of a spouse and parent.

This decision marks significant progress in the civil rights of same-sex couples in America. Still, we must be aware that this new ruling only applies to married same-sex couples in states that legally recognize same-sex marriage—currently only 12 states and Washington, D.C. For same-sex couples in any of the other 38 states, they still face the inequality that Edie Windsor fought against. There is still inequality and, from estate planning to health care rights, there will be significant struggles.

via CNN and Forbes.com

 

The New York Times has shared a short documentary called "The Caretaker" that looks at the loving, compassionate, and challenging relationship between a caretaker and the elderly woman she cares for. The caretaker is an undocumented Fijian immigrant; the woman she cares for is Japanese-American, and was held in a Japanese internment camp during WWII. This is an incredibly moving portrait of caregiving, love, humanity, friendship, and, ultimately, loss.

Speaking of her own death and the imminent death of the woman she cares for, the caretaker says,"It's just another transition you have to go through; you're going to another life. I'm not afraid anymore. In her own time, she will go."

via New York Times

Sometimes, you're just not able to make it to a funeral. Maybe you're out of town, or the funeral is too far away, or you can't afford to take off work. Whatever the reason, know that it's not the end of the world. Of course you want to be there to show your support, but there are lots of other, equally wonderful ways for you to show your friend that you care. Here are 5 things you can do to show your support if you can't attend the funeral.

We know that deciding what to wear to a funeral can be a challenge. To help you figure out what to wear to a funeral or memorial service we've written articles and made how-to videos. And now, we've got pictures.

The folks over at Connecting Directors searched the Instagram hashtag #funeralattire and have shared their findings. Take a look to find inspiration...

via Connecting Directors

Unfortunately, I have a lot of experience with condolence notes. Not only have I written many condolence cards, but also I’ve been the recipient of others’ sympathy. And yet even with all my experience, each time I have to write a condolences note it’s still difficult. But the fact of the matter is that condolence cards are so appreciated, and it’s worth pushing past any anxiety you may have about what to say to show a friend how much you care.

To help you write a heartfelt condolence note, I’ve put together these three tips that offer solutions to some of the problems that I know people face when writing condolence cards.

Problem 1: I don’t know the person who died

If I don’t know the person who died, I often find myself asking, “What can I possibly say?” I assume that others who knew the person better than I did will be better at comforting my friend…so maybe my friend doesn’t need my condolence card.

Solution: Focus on my friend, not on the person who died

The truth is that my friend needs support from all around. If I am thinking about her and wishing her well in this difficult time, then my friend should know that! I write a card that focuses less on the person who died, and more on the impact that that person had on my friend. I write things like, “I’m sorry for your loss. Although I didn’t have the pleasure of getting to know your grandpa, I remember how much your eyes lit up when you talked about your annual fishing trips. I know you must be missing him so much, and I’m here for you if you want to talk about how you’re feeling.” By focusing on my friend and how she may be feeling, I’m able to write a note that is honest and supportive.

Problem 2: What difference can I make?

Sometimes, I think no matter what I can say to my friend, I won’t be able to make a difference. My friend is likely in immense pain, and who am I to think that I can help her? I worry that no matter how much time I spend choosing the exact words to express my compassion, it really won’t matter and it won’t really make my friend feel any better. 

Solution: Make my supportive presence known

In this situation, it’s important to just make my presence known, and let my friend know that I’m thinking of her. In some ways, it doesn’t matter what I say; I know that my friend is struggling, and I know that cannot take away her burden. What I can do is let her know that I’m here for her and thinking of her.

Problem 3: What the heck do I say?

Whenever I write a condolence note, I cannot help but fear that I will say the wrong thing, and upset rather than console, my friend. I become obsessive about the “right” and “wrong” things to say. Not knowing what to say can sometimes paralyze me.

Solution: Speak from the heart, with sensitivity

While there aren’t really “right” and “wrong” things to say to a friend who’s experienced a loss, there are some things that feel better and worse to receive in a condolence note. (Trust me, I’ve seen it all.) Phrases like, “I’m sorry for your loss,” “I’m thinking of you,” and “I’m here for you” are all generic-but-sensitive ways of communicating your sympathy. Sharing a memory of the person who died and offering to help your friend through this difficult time are also good things to say.

And there are certain phrases that are best to avoid, specifically making assumptions about what happened and how your friend is feeling. Unless you know for sure that your friend believed in an afterlife, leave out phrases like, “I know he’s in a better place.” Don’t discuss any of the ailments the person suffered before he or she died; your friend doesn’t need to be reminded of that. And don’t tell your friend that she’ll feel better soon. Although your intentions might be good, it’s important to let your friend feel what she’s feeling, and know that you’ll be there for her no matter what.

If all else fails, get a nice card and simply write something along the lines of, “Please accept my sincere sympathies.” The fact that you took the time to do this will show that you care, and will undoubtedly make your friend feel supported.

Yesterday, actor James Gandolfini died at age 51 in Italy, apparently from a heart attack. (Gandolfini is best known for his role as Tony Soprano in the HBO hit series "The Sopranos," as well as roles in films such as "True Romance," "In the Loop," and "Zero Dark Thirty.") According to TMZ, Gandolfini was in Italy to attend the 59th Taormina Film Festival in Sicily. Presumably, his body will be brought back to the United States for a funeral here. So what happens now? 

Every year, hundreds of American citizens die while traveling abroad. In fact, in 2012, 833 Americans died abroad of non-natural causes. (There are no statistics on how many Americans traveling abroad died of natural causes.) So what happens when an American dies outside of the country? We've broken down the order of operations for how to logistically handle a death abroad.

1. Contact the consulate or embassy in the place the person died. According to the State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs:

The Bureau of Consular Affairs assists the next-of-kin to convey instructions to the appropriate offices within the foreign country, and provides information to the family on how to transmit the necessary private funds to cover the costs overseas. Upon issuance of a local death certificate, the nearest embassy or consulate may prepare a Consular Report of the Death of an American Abroad. Copies of that report are provided to the next-of-kin or legal representative and may be used in U.S. courts to settle estate matters.

2. Decide if you need to travel to the country. Depending on the laws of the place the person died, there may be rules around who can claim the body, make decisions about transporting the body, and sign the necessary paperwork to get the person back to the US. The local consulate or embassy should be able to help you determine if you should go abroad, and may be able to tell you which airport you should fly into and how to get to the consulate or embassy once you arrive. Be aware that the US government will not help you pay for the cost of a plane ticket, or any other expenses related to collecting the body.

2.a. Hire a translator. If you do decide to travel to the country where the person died, you'll want to hire a translator who can help you communicate with the variety of foreign professionals you'll need to work with. Depending on the circumstances of the death, there may need to be an autopsy; you'll likely have to work with a local funeral home in that country; and there will probably be lots of foreign paperwork that you'll need to sign. Having a translator who can help you navigate these areas (hospital, funeral, legal) will make the whole process easier.

3. Find a US funeral home. The foreign consulate or embassy will help you coordinate on the foreign side of things, but you'll need a funeral home that you can work with in the US. It's a good idea to work with a funeral home that has experience in dealing with the country where the person died, since they'll already understand the process of that particular country. To figure out if the funeral home has the right experience, just call around and ask. Also, it's a good idea to make sure that the funeral home can accommodate any time differences that may be involved. As most funeral homes operate on a 9-5 schedule, they may be closed when the foreign funeral home or consulate needs to be in touch with them, so make sure that the funeral home you hire is willing to work on a nontraditional schedule for you.

4. Gather the person's belongings. Whether you go to the country or not, you'll probably want to make arrangements to have the person's personal belongings collected and brought back to the US. This may include everything from the person's passport and any relevant visas (which may be legally necessary in order to transport the body) to the person's clothes, accessories, and other items that he or she was traveling with.

5. Ask your network for help. When someone dies abroad, there can be an overwhelming amount of bureaucracy. Whether you have a friend who can speak the language of the country you're dealing with, or you have a friend whose uncle's best friend's son is in the State Department, or your aunt's hairdresser's son is a travel agent who can get you a good deal on a last-minute international flight, reaching out to your network for support can provide a variety of different types of support. You don't have to handle everything on your own.

via TMZ

A few nights ago I got a desperate call from a close friend: “Can I wear sneakers to a funeral service?”

I was a little surprised that this friend, a very fashionable guy, didn’t know what to wear to a funeral. But it made me think: even if their designer jeans fit them perfectly, even if they know how to tie a Windsor knot, and even if they’ve subscribed to GQ Magazine for years, lots of guys just don’t know what to wear to a funeral service. (And for those without designer jeans or GQ subscriptions, the challenges can be even greater.) Normally, I would've directed him to my new video, “Five Tips for what Men Should Wear to a Funeral," and point out to him that sneakers are generally not appropriate.

I knew, however, that my friend had just had foot surgery and was uncomfortable in dress shoes. And so—whether he didn’t have the right shoes or didn’t own a suit jacket—I reminded him of the crucial point that we often forgot when we’re stressing over what to wear to a funeral: The most important thing is not what you are wearing, but the fact that you are there! I emphasized to my friend that, although sneakers are typically a “no-no” (and he would be best in dark-colored shoes rather than multi-colored running or white tennis shoes), in this case he should focus less on his footwear and more on comfort: the comfort of his feet and the comfort he’d bring to the family by attending the funeral.

Funerals are about remembering the person who died and being there for the grieving family. We attend funerals to show our love and support. Proper attire is one way to show this consideration, but don’t sweat the details. The family is going through a tough time, and your support throughout the process is more important than the shoes you’re wearing.

Everplans has been featured in an article on The Huffington Post! From the piece:

New York-based Everplans, which recently received a $1 million investment, is free and focuses on providing guides written by its staff with consultation from lawyers, funeral directors, clergy and counselors. It also lets users register for an online invitation system to organize funerals.

"As people are living farther and farther from their parents and farther and farther from their religious communities, they have less access to their religious traditions and their family traditions," said Abby Schneiderman, the 33-year-old co-founder of Everplans, explaining how the idea for the two-year-old site came about. Formerly a music service startup co-founder and employee of a tech incubator, Schneiderman said her interest in creating an online guide to the complicated and little-known facets of end-of-life planning increased after her brother died a year ago. Today, the site has hundreds of articles and a blog that covers topics ranging from "death, dying, and dealing with it" to "how to be a friend to a friend who's sick."

We're so proud to be featured,  especially alongside all the other great startups and organizations mentioned in the piece.

via The Huffington Post