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Human Composting Will Soon Be Legal in Arizona

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Human composting

We wrote about the possibility just a month ago, but did not think it was coming to Arizona quite so quickly. But it has. Human composting will now be legal in Arizona. (Want to read the text of the new law, in context with existing law? It’s here.)

The Arizona legislature sent a new law to the Governor, and she signed it in recent days. Now, just 90 days after the legislature adjourns (no one knows when that will be just yet), the law will be effective.

What is human composting?

The proper name for the process is “natural organic reduction.” That should clear everything up.

No? OK — let us explain a little further. The human remains are placed in a special vessel (there are sleek versions and some more homey variants out there). Then the vessel slides into a temperature controlled unit where specialized bacteria, fungi and protozoa have been introduced. The end result: a compost residue that can be used to nurture trees and other plants.

Arizona’s approach is a little different from those in many states. We have redefined cremation to include human composting. That makes a certain amount of sense; though it does not use fire, the human composting process is the application of consistent heat over a long period of time to reduce the remains to a safe and acceptable product.

But is it really safe?

In a word, yes. Assuming that the remains have been subjected to the right processes, and the resultant human compost maintained at a constant temperature of 131°F until all the organisms are killed off, the compost can be declared safe. Disposition needs to be carefully considered — and the safety of the environment is only one of the considerations. But you can expect to see human composting in Arizona in the next year or so, and we predict that it will grow in popularity.

In fact, one of the key attractions for many family members might be the ability to designate a particular plant to receive the compost. Imagine a tree, or another long-lived plant, that the family thinks of as related to the deceased. And a generation (or more) of family members could visit the site. Family gatherings could take place in the shade and shelter of the tree, and everyone could enjoy the natural setting.

What about cost and environmental effects?

Most industry-aware commentators suggest that human composting is likely to cost something like half of the expense associated with cremation. That, in turn, is usually half (or less) of the cost of a more traditional funeral and burial. So human composting will probably significantly reduce the costs.

As for environmental impact: embalming and traditional burial take a tremendous amount of space and pump an extraordinary volume of chemicals into the earth. One source calculates that the environmental impact of traditional burials (now about half of all burial/disposition arrangements in the U.S.) amounts to almost a million gallons of chemicals ending up in gravesites.

Cremation pollutes less. Still, the energy used to fire the crematory, and the production of carbon dioxide and vaporization of metals might be problematic. Human composting might reduce that general effect.

Want to have human composting in your future?

It’s not too early to update your Arizona documents to list the option. Even though it may not be available as a legal or practical matter, you’re probably not a candidate in the next three months, anyway. In the meantime, it’s possible to arrange transport to a state with a functioning human composting, er, natural organic reduction, enterprise. Let us know what you want in your estate planning documents when you have your initial office visit.

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Robert B. Fleming


Robert Fleming is a Fellow of both the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. He has been certified as a Specialist in Estate and Trust Law by the State Bar of Arizona‘s Board of Legal Specialization, and he is also a Certified Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation. Robert has a long history of involvement in local, state and national organizations. He is most proud of his instrumental involvement in the Special Needs Alliance, the premier national organization for lawyers dealing with special needs trusts and planning.

Robert has two adult children, two young grandchildren and a wife of over fifty years. He is devoted to all of them. He is also very fond of Rosalind Franklin (his office companion corgi), and his homebound cat Muninn. He just likes people, their pets and their stories.

Elizabeth N.R. Friman


Elizabeth Noble Rollings Friman is a principal and licensed fiduciary at Fleming & Curti, PLC. Elizabeth enjoys estate planning and helping families navigate trust and probate administrations. She is passionate about the fiduciary work that she performs as a trustee, personal representative, guardian, and conservator. Elizabeth works with CPAs, financial professionals, case managers, and medical providers to tailor solutions to complex family challenges. Elizabeth is often called upon to serve as a neutral party so that families can avoid protracted legal conflict. Elizabeth relies on the expertise of her team at Fleming & Curti, and as the Firm approaches its third decade, she is proud of the culture of care and consideration that the Firm embodies. Finding workable solutions to sensitive and complex family challenges is something that Elizabeth and the Fleming & Curti team do well.

Amy F. Matheson


Amy Farrell Matheson has worked as an attorney at Fleming & Curti since 2006. A member of the Southern Arizona Estate Planning Council, she is primarily responsible for estate planning and probate matters.

Amy graduated from Wellesley College with a double major in political science and English. She is an honors graduate of Suffolk University Law School and has been admitted to practice in Arizona, Massachusetts, New York, and the District of Columbia.

Prior to joining Fleming & Curti, Amy worked for American Public Television in Boston, and with the international trade group at White & Case, LLP, in Washington, D.C.

Amy’s husband, Tom, is an astronomer at NOIRLab and the Head of Time Domain Services, whose main project is ANTARES. Sadly, this does not involve actual time travel. Amy’s twin daughters are high school students; Finn, her Irish Red and White Setter, remains a puppy at heart.

Famous people's wills

Matthew M. Mansour


Matthew is a law clerk who recently earned his law degree from the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law. His undergraduate degree is in psychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Matthew has had a passion for advocacy in the Tucson community since his time as a law student representative in the Workers’ Rights Clinic. He also has worked in both the Pima County Attorney’s Office and the Pima County Public Defender’s Office. He enjoys playing basketball, caring for his cat, and listening to audiobooks narrated by the authors.