Funeral and Life Insurance Funds
In 2015, while researching funeral laws, Sustainable Economies Law Center serendipitously discovered astounding potential to channel capital into farmland and open space conservation. The average funeral costs $10,000, meaning that Americans alive today will eventually spend $3.2 trillion on burials, cremation, and related costs. Many people purchase funeral services and cemetery plots far in advance of their deaths. Imagine that those funds are deposited with a cooperative or other entity that would acquire land, lease some of it to farmers, preserve some of it as open space, and turn parts of it into green cemeteries.
We are exploring this potential also because there is growing concern about funeral industry practices. Conventional cemeteries use unsustainable practices, such as embalming chemicals and concrete encasements, and cremation contributes substantially to greenhouse gas emissions. As a result, interest in green burials, which involve less disturbance of land and ecosystems, is increasing.
What We're Working On
Supporting a pilot fund: We're in conversation with a group about forming a cooperative that finances land acquisition through development and sale of plots in green cemeteries. Stay tuned for updates!
Financial regulation of cemeteries: We are researching and writing about the many layers of regulation governing the financial operations of cemeteries and funeral enterprises. These include laws dictating the management of "pre-need" purchases and funeral trusts, as well as management of endowments for the long-term care of cemeteries.
Land use permits and licensing for cemeteries: The viability of using cemeteries to anchor land conservation depends partly on how easy or difficult it is to obtain necessary permits and licenses for cemeteries. We have a volunteer researching permitting processes for California cemeteries.
Life insurance and other funds related to end-of-life: If people are willing to set aside funds that they will not need, literally, until they die, how can we put those funds to good use during their lifetimes? This includes not only what people spend on burials, but also what they put toward life insurance and other end-of-life expenses. These funds can essentially act like another form of savings, like retirement savings, and our goal is to determine how such funds can be used during people's lifetimes to conserve land and support thriving communities.