Suppose I wish to leave some or all of my bones to a loved one after my demise (properly cleaned and bleached), or have a loved one leave me bones, is that something I am able to legally do (assuming I or my loved ones are interested in receiving them)?

For instance, my grandma has the ashes of her father (which I assume are human remains) in an urn above her fireplace. Would you be able to take that one step further and instead have a bone given for display purposes as sort of a family heirloom (think a skull mounted on a plaque with your name and birth-death dates, or your finger bone with a wedding ring around it)? At that point, can it be easily handed down from generation to generation (my grandma is passing the ashes down to her oldest son), or would it be difficult to transfer ownership of the bones after you receive it?

  • 3
    FWIW, the verb that means "transfer to someone via a Last Will and Testament" is "to devise" or in more contemporary plain English, "to give". The use of the word "willed" to mean "transfer to someone via a Last Will and Testament" is an incorrect used of the word "willed" (which means "wanted something at sometime in the past" or something to that effect).
    – ohwilleke
    Dec 24, 2016 at 6:46

2 Answers 2


It would be more common to leave a separate direction regarding the disposition of your body in a document other than your will, entrusted with your next of kin. This is because a dead person's body is usually disposed of in less than a week following death, but a determination that a will is valid and effective often has a minimum five day waiting period from death and can take months.

Often, this direction regarding your own remains would not be phased in terms of a sale or gift. Instead, it would usually be a "direction" about their disposition. Someone else's remains would be property governed by a will. But, we don't normally think of body parts of a recently deceased person as becoming property, rather than a person, until they are processed in a way that makes them not a biohazard. This would not be the case, obviously, immediately upon your death when the direction regarding your remains is intended to take effect.

Also, while selling already processed bones can be permissible, selling organs for transplantation is generally not permissible, although there can be reimbursement for any medical costs or similar out of pocket expenses incurred in connection with that process, again reflecting the distinction between an unprocessed dead body which is often not considered property, and a processed dead body part which often is considered property.


There are no general legal impediments. Possession of human bones is legal (and selling them is an actual business), and processing bodies into cleaned bones is also a legal business. The main legal limits are on the folks who process the corpse, who have to comply with various enviromental laws pertaining to biohazardous material. You can will your bones, or sell them, though in the latter case there could be some paper trail requirements to make sure that the end product isn't from an illegal skeleton-mill.


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