Why You Need to Dictate What’s to Become of Your Ashes

Aug 19, 2015 | 1 comment

Dorothy Parker 1941

Author Dorothy Parker works at her typewriter in 1941. (AP)

The cremated remains of Dorothy Parker — humorist, writer, critic, defender of human and civil rights — are buried in a memorial grove next to the NAACP headquarters in Baltimore – right beside the parking lot. Her remains are far from New York City, the place she grew up in and loved.

Dorothy Parker left instructions that she be cremated, but she left no instructions as to what was to be done with her ashes. She died in 1967 at the age of 73, with no heirs. She willed her estate to Martin Luther King, Jr., who was assassinated less than a year later.

But Parker had thought ahead. The will said if something happened to Martin Luther King, she wanted her estate to be turned over to the NAACP. In her writings and her life, Parker sympathized with the oppressed.

The writer Lillian Hellman, a friend of Parker’s, was the executrix for her estate. Hellman never claimed the ashes from the mortuary. Hellman’s attorney Paul O’Dwyer wound up with Parker’s cremated remains and kept them in a filing cabinet in his office for 15 years. It’s been a long strange trip for these cremated remains.

You can listen to the entire story by Nell Greenfieldboyce on NPR. The encore story ran today.

The moral of the story – you can will your estate to various people and organizations. But make sure you dictate what you want done with your mortal remains. You never know where you might end up if you don’t say where you want your cremated remains to be placed (or scattered) after you’ve gone.

A Good Goodbye