This past week, two stories surfaced about cremation that illustrate important points about having a conversation and making arrangements BEFORE there’s a death in the family.
One concerns legalities about who can or must authorize cremation for someone else, and the other concerns who in a family pays for cremation in the indigent death of an estranged ex.
In the Albuquerque Journal, a front-page article told the story of a distraught mother who wanted to have her deceased 30-year-old daughter cremated. The young woman was found dead of a gunshot to the face.
However, this family’s situation and state regulations came to a deadlock over cremation.
Even though the daughter always said she wanted to be cremated, she did not plan to die. She had not filled out a self-authorized cremation form, something adults in New Mexico can do to dictate their final disposition. So it fell to state statute to dictate who could authorize her cremation.
The mother had raised her daughter by herself. The father was estranged for decades and only saw the daughter once for about 30 minutes when the girl was two years old. Yet, the state of New Mexico law says that if a person hasn’t left written instructions, certain family members can then make the decision to have the deceased cremated.
The top three decision-makers are the surviving spouse, a majority of surviving adult children and the surviving parents of the deceased. In this case, there is no spouse, siblings or adult children, which brings the decision to the parents – and that is plural. Both must grant consent.
Without the father in the picture, the cremation was held up, even with a sworn statement that the father could not be located. The mother was able to find a funeral home that would do the cremation with a signed affidavit.
An editorial in the Albuquerque Journal suggested tweaking the cremation law to allow survivors closure.
At issue is whether a funeral home violates the law by cremating remains with only one parent’s permission. Doing so might also appear to leave the business open to a lawsuit should the other surviving parent at some time challenge the cremation.
New Mexico legislators should revisit the law and consider making changes to clarify it and accommodate situations such as McFarland’s – protecting the wishes of the next of kin while protecting the funeral home from a potential lawsuit. For instance, the law could be amended to allow for cremation if one parent swears out an affidavit that the other parent is not locatable, with stiff penalties if they lie. Any change should offer protection to the businesses that must deal with these sensitive situations.
Those over 18 years of age would do their relatives a kindness by putting their wishes in writing – preferably notarized documents or a will – so parents or other next of kin can honor them, should they need to.
A recent Dear Abby column was from the ex of a deadbeat dad who died an indigent drifter. Nobody in the man’s family – his son, his sister, his aunt, or the ex – would pay for his disposal since no one had heard from him in several years.
Dear Abby suggested the son, as the next of kin, be to one to decide the appropriate way to handle the dad’s remains. She also suggested donating the body to a medical school, but as we all know, you have to have paperwork done BEFORE there’s a death to donate a body.