General Question

Coloma's avatar

Is it legal to will your remains to another for science/hobbyist pursuits?

Asked by Coloma (47105points) January 31st, 2017

If you can donate your organs or body for research is it also possible to will your skeletal remains to a private party? Just curious as my daughter collects and articulates animal skulls and skeletons. She is also an artist and loves human anatomy. She was just sharing with me her latest purchase of a museum quality horses skull and I was joking that she could have my skull when I died.

This led me to wonder if it is, infact, possible to leave your skeletal remains to someone?

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18 Answers

Patty_Melt's avatar

Fine, moderate me, but I had to say it.

Coloma's avatar

@Patty_Melt Haha…well, it’s a valid and curious question for sure don’t you think?
Sure, to some it might seem morbid but to artsy/sciencey types it would be really cool to be able to have a human skull or skeleton.
If we can stash our loved ones cremains in peanut butter jar in our underwear drawer why can’t we have our skeletons sitting by the fireplace? lol
What’s the difference between a jar of crunchy bone fragments vs. an intact skeleton?

It seems there could be a cremation process where your flesh is seared away leaving the intact skeleton to be sent home with whomever wants it.

@RedDeerGuy1 Can you share a source of information?

RedDeerGuy1's avatar

Telus world of science in Edmonton had cadavers in poses on display 5 years ago. With the agreement that they would be put to rest in the future. So I would say yes. As long as your respectful to the cadavers. I believe it is called body world’s . NSFW possibly.

Coloma's avatar

Yes, I’ve seen exhibits such as that, those are probably donated cadavers but…I am talking about giving your body to a friend or family member not a certified medical or scientific institute.

RedDeerGuy1's avatar

@Coloma You might have to ask a lawyer. Sorry for not being any more helpful.

Jeruba's avatar

Without doing any research, I’ll offer my guess. I would think you can will anything you want to anyone, as long as you have a right of ownership of it; but I would guess that the intended recipient would not have a right to own whatever you might will to them. I don’t believe it is legal to possess human remains. (If it is, I’m sure someone will set me straight.)

Likewise, suppose I had a trunk full of counterfeit money in my closet, or a pound of illegal opiates stowed in my freezer, or a crate of stolen paintings in my garage. I might write a will designating them as a bequest to you, but that would not give you the right to have them.

Zaku's avatar

I believe it is legal, but that there are also laws for what a person can do with a body, or more the way they do things with a body. But certainly there are medical people who use organs, academics who study dead bodies, and even artists who use dead bodies for art, and so on. But there are also regulations about how to do things so there aren’t health issues. If someone calls a lawyer (or a mortician) for specifics, or does more research I hope they post their findings or a link here.

Patty_Melt's avatar

I’m sorry, but the images you have brought forth…
“Hello Sherry, Bryan. Dinner is almost ready. I would like you to meet my mother…”
”... double letter score under the ‘c’, that makes fourteen. Your turn, Mommy.”
“No Spike, don’t chew Mommy. Bad dog!”
“One word, tv title, oh! Bones! Good one , Mother.”

As @Jeruba said, I believe possession of human body parts is illegal. Perhaps there are certain provisions with a certain type of license?
I think you will have to consult your lawyer on that one.
I am pretty sure ashes must be kept differently than in a Skippy jar. I do know for a fact there are regulations limiting how and where ashes can be scattered.

flutherother's avatar

You could give her a kidney but why would you give your skull? If it isn’t illegal it probably should be.

Seek's avatar

It is legal to possess human bones, I know that. (I’m a Bone collector, and while I don’t currently own any human parts, is good to know I could, in theory)

There are some states with laws governing whether human bones can be transported over the state border.

LeavesNoTrace's avatar

Depends on the state law. My friend is an artist who sometimes gilds animal bones as part of her installments with gorgeous results. On a recent trip to NOLA, she asked me if I could possibly bring her a human skull (which are sold legally in some of their curiosity shoppes) and I told her it was a no-go because they don’t allow you to bring or ship human remains into New York state without a license. And also because the idea gave me the creeps!

Coloma's avatar

@Seek Cool, yeah, collecting and articulating skeletal remains is a very interesting interest. haha
@LeavesNoTrace Yes, similar to what my daughter is interested in. Makes sense though about transporting remains, that they would need to be verifiable in some way.

@Patty_Melt Mortuaries will give you cremains in a box or urn but you could transfer them to any other container if you so chose and I don’t think there are cremains police watching for people who are illegally scattering ashes. haha
Nothing to stop you from scattering the remains wherever you want, Nothing but dust and bone fragments, all biodegradable.

To everyone else, well, I am posing this question mostly hypothetically, I doubt my daughter would really want my skull it is just a curiosity and got me thinking that really, I see nothing wrong or off putting about possessing human skeletal remains. Hey, science is science and collectors collect a lot of offbeat items, why should bones and skulls be any different? Bones or butterflies, collecting is collecting.

Thanks for the answers people.

BellaB's avatar

If this, place exists, I think anything is possible.

Great radio piece – definitely worth the half hour background listen.

Zaku's avatar sure seems to think human bone ownership is legal. ;-) ‘s web site starts out mentioning:
Human Bone Laws & Information – In short, it is perfectly legal to posses and sell human bones in the United States. There are a few exceptions to this: a few states have banned import and export, and of course, all archaeological resources protected by the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. For more information and specifics please visit our Bone FAQ page.
The Bone Room cannot ship any real human bones to the following states: Georgia, Tennessee, New York.

Doctors sometimes offer you your own parts when they cut them out/off of you.

Coloma's avatar

@BellaB Haha, the phallic museum, hilarious! I’ll listen to your other link in a minute.

@Zaku Wow…cool resources! I like the “Budget bones” and the 21 human skulls for sale are quite interesting, notice they all have a different expression, personality plus. “Real human skull with carrying case.” hahaha
It’s also funny how they advertise them as “one of a kind”. Well yeah! lol

My daughter just dissected a deer skull from a roadkill last week. The local Vultures had picked it pretty clean and she is waiting on some cleaning solution to arrive this week to finish articulating it. I know you can also order Carrion beetles. I am now on roadkill alert for anything interesting.

She already has a horse, a ram, a raccoon and skunk skull.
I am enjoying browsing your links, Thanks!

Seek's avatar

Hydrogen peroxide, water, sunlight, and time are all I use to clean my bones. And local insects, of course.

Other bleaching agents make the bones mushy and spongy.

Coloma's avatar

@Seek Yes, my daughter was telling me that the other day. She ordered a bunch of Hydrogen Peroxide somewhere used for the process. I suggested bleach and sunlight but she said bleach is bad.

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