In 2018, Sage, a leader in LGBT elder care, published findings from a survey on aging that showed LGBT seniors (aged 50+) are two times more likely to be single or live alone and four times less likely to have children. Additionally, while the U.S. census has never measured how many LGBT people live in America, reports estimate that there are currently around 3 million LGBT adults over age 50. That number is expected to grow to around 7 million by 2030.
Why is this important? Well, the glaring take away is that for a great number of us, the execution of our final wishes will fall into the hands of distant relatives, lawyers, or court appointed administrators, i.e. people who don’t know you from a ham sandwich. So, even if you woke up feeling strong and healthy this morning, working out your postmortem wishes is an important aspect of preserving your bodily autonomy.
Planning your passing is likely not on the top of your to-do list. It is kind of a bummer in the abstract, given the state of the world, and it’s more than a little morbid, but I bet if you give it half a chance, you’ll see that it needn’t be a somber, colorless exercise. On the contrary! It can be freeing and organic, maybe even a little exhilarating. This may sound strange, but dare to dream, babe!
Honestly, have fun with it! It’s really okay. I am giving you permission to unclench and not take it so seriously. Call it a fantasy death draft, create a fancy bujo layout (it is Spoopy Season!), or channel the fates with a nostalgic game of (funeral-themed) MASH. After marrying Tom from fourth-period bio, having a dozen kids, and living in a shack in the Maldives, will you be cremated, composted, buried, or set ablaze while serenely gliding across a pond, like a badass Viking?
Personally, I’d like to donate whatever is salvageable, have my leftover bits cremated, and then sent to a facility to be turned into a sustainable seawall/reef. On the day they install my portion of faux reef, there’ll be chartered yacht on the water for friends and family to watch and have a party.
But, anyway, this isn’t about me. This is about you.
Take a few minutes to think about it.
Okay! Now that you have an idea (Sort of. Kinda.), we have to make it actionable.
It might surprise you to know that in some states, like here in New York, you cannot self-authorize your own disposition. That means, whatever your plans are, the final deed ultimately requires your closest next of kin or designated representative to co-sign. The reasoning for this is that modern methods of disposition, like cremation, are one and done. So, naturally, given the litigious hair-trigger of this country, responsible parties want to be 110% sure before they irreversibly reduce your body to ash, or compost, or soylent green, or launch you into outer space, especially since you’re dead and cannot consent to anything.
Wack. I know. But, it’s like they say, nothing worth having comes easy!
So, what now? How do we give your dream wings?
If you live in a place where you can’t self-authorize, or even if you do, here are a couple of things you can do today to make your wishes known:
1.) Appoint a Funeral Agent: Find someone who’s trustworthy and down for your bullshit, and appoint them as your ‘funeral agent.’ This can be done by completing an Appointment of Agent to Control Disposition of Remains form.
Find someone who is down for your bullshit… you wouldn’t ask a Roman Catholic to endorse your cremation. You’d literally be asking them to send you to hell, which is totally metal, but also very disrespectful to them.
The rights of the funeral agent supersede the rights of all others, including the spouse and other relatives such as children and parents. This is where specific instructions about a viewing, makeup and dress preferences, and specific funeral home and cemetery could be added.
Appointment forms can be found on your state’s Department of Health website, like this one for New York.
However, since these forms are cookie-cutter, I strongly encourage you to check out these amended versions created by Poul Lemasters, funeral director/embalmer, lawyer, and advisor to the International Cemetery, Cremation, and Funeral Association, who specializes in legal counsel to the death-care industry. They’re $10 apiece, but it includes added language to make the power of the agent broader and more clearly defined regarding the planning of funeral arrangements and providing information for death certificates (i.e. helpful to gays, gay adjacents, and the extended family).
NOTE: Please be judicious in your selection process. Obviously, you wouldn’t ask an observant Jewish person or Roman Catholic to endorse your cremation. You’d literally be asking them to send you to hell, which is totally metal, but also disrespectful to them. Bottom line, whoever you choose, take them out, lube them up with bottomless brunch, and then have a hard conversation. Make sure they’re the best fit for the job!
2.) Write a Letter of Intent: Though it isn’t legally binding like the former, a Letter of Intent is a personal, comprehensive (re: exhausting) letter expressing your desires and special requests. It may include information regarding burial or cremation or a specific bequest of collectibles or personal items. While it does not typically have legal authority, it can help to clear up confusion regarding your personal preferences, which is always a plus when wrangling opinionated family members.
Here is an example Letter of Intent created by a law firm specializing in estate planning.
How do I know if I live in a state where I can self-authorize?
What a great question!
I’ve compiled an outline of requirements for self-authorization states for download. These rules are pretty finicky, so make sure you read them carefully! The specific laws have also been sited below each outline.
Additionally, you can check out The Funeral Consumers Alliance’s state-by-state list regarding Personal Preference Laws for Body Disposition to see if your state makes the cut. If it doesn’t, don’t worry. They recommend some helpful workarounds for you.