Death + the Law Death Ethics

Minnesota’s Extra End-of-Life Legal Hoops for Same-Sex Partners

Editorial: ‘Final Wishes’ Veto is Cold, Calculating
At time of death, we can be kinder to same-sex couples.
Star Tribune (May 24, 2010)

Last week, Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty vetoed a bill that would have given same-sex partners in long term relationships the legal right to the other partner’s dead body for funeral arrangements and final disposition of the remains. I wrote about the veto on Death Ref (Governor of MN to Gays and Lesbians: You Cannot Claim Your Partner’s Corpse) and discussed how Pawlenty’s decision was very similar to a veto issued by the Governor of Rhode Island.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune has now weighed in on the veto with an Editorial. I totally agree with what the Editorial Board says and with its critique of Pawlenty’s rationale for vetoing the bill.

Here is the Editorial’s key section:

“Currently a person can, by executing a will, designate who shall be empowered to control final disposition of his or her remains,” Pawlenty wrote in his letter explaining his veto. “This bill therefore addresses a nonexistent problem.”


That’s not the reality, say some who have lived through the death of a partner, only to face technical entanglements that kept them from carrying out their final wishes.


“We had done what we thought was everything we could possibly do,” said Tim Reardon of Golden Valley, recalling the legal preparations he and his partner Eric Mann made before Mann’s death in 2006. “The myth is that you can legally take care of all that stuff.”


Reardon’s inability to carry out Mann’s wishes, until his partner’s understanding parents intervened, is an example of why the bill is needed. “To have to hear, after your partner is dead and you’re absolutely physically and emotionally spent, somebody say, ‘I’m sorry, your relationship is not recognized,’ it strikes this deep kind of disbelief. It’s just such a crazy violation of our rights, our dignity, of our respect.”


It’s heartless to put our fellow citizens through such heartache. And it’s unfair to make same-sex couples hire attorneys to get the same rights as married couples.

Governor Pawlenty’s veto is part of a larger battle that will lose the war. Marriage and all its benefits, including the right to a deceased, same-sex partner’s corpse, is on the horizon.

Death + the Law Death Ethics

Governor of MN to Gays and Lesbians: You Cannot Claim Your Partner’s Corpse

Pawlenty Vows Veto of Same-Sex Measure
Jason Hoppin, Pioneer Press (May 13, 2010)

Oh Tim Pawlenty, Governor of Minnesota. I know that you think you’ve got a chance at the 2012 Republican Presidential ticket but, alas, you’ll be disappointed. In all honesty, I don’t know who will be the GOP candidate but it won’t be you, that much I know. So instead of helping gay and lesbian Minnesotans in committed, long term relationships cope with a partner’s death you go ahead and veto a completely practical, sensible bill.

I am referring here to Minnesota Senate Bill No. 341 which, among other things, would allow same-sex domestic partners to claim their dead partner’s body in order to make funeral arrangements. Here is the bill’s language:

Subd. 2. Determination of right to control and duty of disposition.
(a) The right to control the disposition of the remains of a deceased person, including the location and conditions of final disposition, unless other directions have been given by the decedent pursuant to subdivision 1, vests in, and the duty of final disposition of the body devolves upon, the following in the order of priority listed:

The list includes 1.) Wills and Legal Instruments 2.) Spouses 3.) Domestic Partners and other groups such as children. It is the third group, domestic partners, which Bill 341 added and it is the reason Governor Pawlenty (by his own admission) vetoed it. Pawlenty’s rationale was that since same-sex couples can establish Wills or Health Directives in which a same-sex partner is named as the sole decision maker then the law was unnecessary.

In a sense Governor Pawlenty is correct but only so far as this means same-sex couples have to jump through a hoop that married straight couples do not. Furthermore, this law would have made the entire funeral arrangement process and final disposition of the dead body a lot simpler. As the law currently stands in Minnesota, any same-sex couple without explicit legal documents stating the couples’ final disposition wishes faces a potential legal challenge from next of kin. If the family of a gay man or lesbian woman does not like or even acknowledge the same-sex partner then that person can be legally excluded from the entire funeral.

This is a situation that funeral directors confronted quite a bit during the 1980s and 1990s, during the height of the AIDS epidemic. It’s a terrible scenario in which the body in the casket can literally become a dividing line. The Minnesota Senate Bill would have gone a long way towards simplifying how same-sex couples can claim their deceased partner’s body.

One day, and it will be in my own lifetime, these legal forms of discrimination and the individuals who supported them will look absolutely barbaric. This much I also know.

So there you go Governor Pawlenty. You’re not going to get the GOP nomination and you’re acting like a completely intolerant, insensitive brute. But at least you’re in good company: the Governor of Rhode Island did the same exact thing last November and he too will never be President of the United States of America.

Death + Humor Death + the Law

From Bea-yond the Grave

Bea Arthur Continues Her Activism in Death
Maria Elena Fernandez, LATimesBlogs (April 22, 2010)

Due to a special stipulation in her will, deceased comedic actress Bea Arthur is speaking out against animal cruelty.

As part of their McCruelty campaign, PETA is using images of Ms. Arthur, a.k.a. Maude, Dorothy, et. al. in new ads appearing in the Chicago Tribune.

I’m Rolling Over in My Grave!Just like many non-profits, PETA offers a “planned giving” option. According to, “a planned gift is any major gift, made in lifetime or at death as part of a donor’s overall financial and/or estate planning.”

The world of planned giving is an area of estate planning and charity and philanthropic work that is sometimes overshadowed by the more splashy details of a will involving heirs and final disposition preferences. There are various organizations out there in the planned giving universe such as the stuffy-sounding Partnership for Philanthropic Planning. But in exploring a bit out on the web, we discover the lighter side of the biz.

The planned giving marketers have failures as well. The number one tip given by is to “Stop telling your prospect you’re waiting for him to die.” The fix? Tell ’em it’s all about immortality. That’s what the Ayn Rand Institute seems to be trying to do with their Atlantis Legacy Program. One Atlantis donor put it this way: “I like the idea of my money continuing to fight for Ayn Rand’s ideas into the indefinite future, even after I’m gone. In a way, it’s a form of immortality: to be funding, beyond my lifetime, a world-changing institution.”

And so, we come full circle. In the immortal words of Bea Arthur, “Now this goes to the grave with you – I hate cheesecake!” (This was copied from, a dubious quotations site with little attributable documentation, and despite my official librarian duty to cite my sources, I’m gonna let this one slide.)

Burial Death + the Law

Things Left Behind

“That’s probably the hardest part — to see how some of these people have nobody in their lives,” Hendrickson said.

Saw an interesting article in the LA Times about what happens to the belongings of those who die and have no heirs or fail to leave a will. Possession are packed up in a warehouse and later auctioned off, with proceeds going back into the estate or used for burial expenses, with the remainder going to the state.

I imagine this happens in hundreds of cities throughout the United States. But with Los Angeles County being so dense—and being home to a high percentage of famous and infamous decedants—these auctions must present quite the collection of oddities and fascinations. The thrift store freak/junkhound/garage sailor in me salivates at the possibilities. The introspective me thinks about the sadness of so much left behind. Obviously, you can’t take it with you whether you will it to someone or not. But, in most of these cases, the stuff left behind tells a story about someone very alone—save for the company of their last earthly possessions.