Estate planning often goes hand in hand with making funeral arrangements. As a result, people often ask to include a provision in their Will directing how they would like their body to be laid to rest. An important and often misunderstood reality is that your estate trustee (also known as your executor or executrix) will have the authority to determine what is to be done with your body after your death. He or she is not legally required to follow the funeral or burial instructions found in your Will or the wishes of your family. (This is yet another reason why it is important to choose one or more individuals you trust as your estate trustee(s).)

When considering how you would like your body handled after your death, you may wish to include a specific direction that your body be donated to a teaching facility – generally, a medical school – upon your death, in hopes that it will be used to educate future medical professionals. Before doing so, there are a few things you should know.

First of all, in Ontario, the Ministry of Community Safety & Correctional Services’ website includes contact information for individual medical schools, which each have unique policies regarding the donation of bodies, involving donation of the entire body for education and research purposes.

The Ministry notes that consent for the donation can be given in the following ways:

1) by completing a consent form for the specific School of Anatomy that the individual wishes to receive the donation and sending the form directly to that school;

2) in writing (such as in a Will); or

3) orally, if in the presence of two witnesses at the time.

If you (the deceased) did not consent, your estate trustee(s) (or next-of-kin in an intestacy) may give consent for the donation.

Secondly, you should note that not all bodies will be accepted for donation. Each school has specific rules – for example, an autopsy, embalming, an amputation, donation of organs and certain infectious diseases may disqualify a body.

Further, the deceased’s estate is responsible for the costs of obtaining the required documentation for donation, as well as for the costs of transporting the body to the School of Anatomy. Because the body cannot be embalmed, transportation can be complex and therefore expensive. Even short distances can be costly. For example, the University of Toronto School of Anatomy estimates that the cost of transporting a body within the Greater Toronto Area is approximately $900.

If the donation is accepted, many of the individual schools will cover the costs of cremation and internment in the school’s plot. Costs of a private internment (if one is desired) must be borne by the estate. It may be anywhere from 18 months to three years after donation that a body is cremated.

Overall, donating one’s body to medical education and research requires an understanding of the associated costs and the required arrangements. Planning, research and open communication with one’s estate trustee(s) and recipient school of choice may make the process quicker and easier for all involved. You may also consider advising your loved ones of your intention to have your body donated.

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