A “Viking funeral” refers an ancient Norse funerary rite whereby the deceased’s bodily remains and prized possessions are put to sea in a wooden boat that is subsequently ignited by a flaming arrow. Though the tradition may be more Hollywood than history, it’s becoming a popular if exotic funeral arrangement for pets whose owners want to bid them farewell with fanfare.
But what about for their owners? Is it legally possible?
That was essentially the question posed to me yesterday by my assistant. Apparently his father wants to, in his words, “go out with a bang.” Is a Viking funeral legal?
(Remember, funerals mundane and exotic are subject to state law, so the rules for flaming out in Maryland may be different from those in California and other states.)
In Maryland, there is no law specifically prohibiting a Viking funeral – but this is a state that doesn’t even have a law against improper corpse disposal. The most recent attempt to remedy this came in the 2010 session of the Maryland General Assembly, but House Bill 12 never even made it to the Senate.
Instead, the “fullest extent of the law” with which an offender may be prosecuted is typically a misdemeanor fine for littering. But that’s often simply for burying a body somewhere inappropriate. What legal trouble could you get into for one of these Scandinavian send-offs?
Well, let’s break down the process. Start by dumping inflammable liquid all over a raft, spilling some onto the ground or into the water. Proceed to launch this toxin-soaked skiff into a public waterway, possibly teeming with protected species. Arm yourself with an unregulated weapon, apply flame to the same unregulated weapon, and propel the aforesaid unregulated weapon – now a flaming, pointed missile of almost-certainly dubious accuracy – some hundreds of feet through the air in the general direction of your target. Repeat as needed until igniting the (intended) craft and possibly the oil-laden waters surrounding it, sending a mass of burning biological embers and smog into the air.
Then what? Does it just burn out on the water? Does it reach the opposite bank and ignite a boathouse or an over-fertilized lawn or the nest of an obscure endangered waterfowl? What about the other boat you hit with the first errant burning arrow? Or the river that you literally just set on fire?
Littering, I can assure you, would not be my primary concern.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to honor a loved one in the way you deem appropriate, especially if such a memorial is their dying wish. But you’ll have to meet the State halfway if you want to avoid (1) general public chaos and (2) the ensuing legal fees.
You might be able to compromise by having the body cremated properly then lighting a small model ship of some kind carrying the ashes, especially if done in waters enclosed by your private property. Even then, you still may face some form of inquiry but certainly not to the same extent as if the above scenario played out.
While this is certainly the most exotic funeral question I’ve encountered, it isn’t the only one. Many clients have inquired about being spread to the four winds in Hawaii. My favorite was a request by a golfer who wanted to be scattered in the green-side bunker at Pebble Beach in time for the U.S. Open. It may not be a Viking-styled send-off, but don’t underestimate the satisfaction of denying Mickelson his final chance for par.
In my experience, most clients neglect the “funeral arrangements” section of their estate plan. Whether you want to sail off to Valhalla in a blaze of Nordic glory, play Pebble Beach’s 18th for eternity or be launched into space for an interstellar farewell, there’s an estate plan out there that can accommodate your exotic funeral in some form or another. Give us a call if you want a hand finding it.
As always, good luck and good hunting.
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The Fisher Law Office is known for its experience in estate planning, probate administration, asset protection, and business development. Annapolis attorney Randall D. Fisher has practiced for over 20 years, maintains the highest peer review rating for ethics (AV Preeminent) by Martindale-Hubbell, and is a sucker for long walks on the fairways.