By Guest Contributor Catherine Durkin Robinson
Catherine Durkin Robinson is the owner of Anitya Doula Services. She completed the End-of-Life Doula Program at the University of Vermont and is a member of the National End of Life Doula Alliance (NEDA).
Focus on LGBTQ Funeral Planning
Death is known as the great equalizer, but equality isn’t always afforded to the dead. Many end-of-life professionals still discriminate against members of the LGBTQ+ community. That’s why it’s important, especially if you identify as a gay, trans, queer, or non-binary individual, to know your rights while alive to protect yourself after death.
Your End-of-Life Wishes
Too many people wait until a serious diagnosis to get their affairs in order. It can be overwhelming and emotional. The best time to think about and plan for end-of-life is right now, before a terminal illness, while you’re thinking clearly and rationally.
What comes first? Picking the best advocate when you can no longer speak for yourself.
A key point in your LGBTQ funeral planning is choosing carefully when considering whom to put in charge of your affairs. Whether your “next of kin” is empowered to make decisions when you’re dead or still alive but can no longer communicate, you want someone you can trust.
If your spouse is supportive, that person will be in charge. Otherwise, think carefully. Who in your life accepts your identity or sexuality? That’s the person who can help protect your wishes.
Establish an Advance Directive outlining your end-of-life wishes. Check your state’s requirements or contact an estate attorney to help create this document. Make sure your doctor, lawyer, and loved ones get a copy.
You can assign someone as a Durable Power of Attorney, a Health Care Proxy, and/or a Funeral Agent. Ideally, this person or persons will act according to your wishes.
Call at least three funeral homes, either where you live or where you want your body to go, and talk to them about their diversity and inclusion policies. Look specifically for established businesses either owned and operated by members or allies of the LGBTQ+ community.
Pre-planning your funeral or memorial service has several benefits that include:
- Establishing your wishes.
- Making sure they’re respected and followed.
- Paying for everything ahead of time.
- Eliminating the emotional burden on your loved ones who won’t need to go through the trouble of finding an inclusive funeral director because you’ve done that yourself.
- Also, easing financial burdens on next-of-kin.
While it may not seem a critical part of LGBTQ funeral planning, you should consider how you’d like your obituary to be written. It will be the formal announcement of your death and life that people read on websites, newspapers, and social media.
What do you want it to say?
You can always write it yourself and leave instructions for the funeral director to publish it after you die. Or perhaps you’d like to ask a professional writer, doula, lawyer, or trusted friend to write one instead. Talk to them about your name, pronouns, partners, and other ways to write your obituary properly.
Don’t leave it up to someone else to take care of this. If your family doesn’t accept your identity, you must take initiative to control the narrative and get your obituary written in a way that honors you. This includes anything you might want to keep private.
Plans for Your Body
Think about how you’d like your body washed and dressed after death. Discuss this with the funeral director and care team, so everyone understands how to proceed. You can also write these instructions in your will, pre-planning documents, and advance directives.
Do you want your body or cremains buried in a cemetery?
Many privately-owned cemeteries allow people to customize their grave markers. You don’t have to use your legal name or any other information that doesn’t correctly identify you. However, official documents in the cemetery’s office will include the death certificate, which will have your legal name.
Most cemeteries accept death certificates with different names than the marker. However, if you have time to legally change your name before death, please do so. It lessens the chance of problems in the future if all documents contain the same name.
If you don’t have time to legally change your name before death, make sure you find a cemetery that allows the marker to be customized. Also, ask about any marker restrictions that include colors, sizes, or shapes. You want to be laid to rest in a place that honors all of your wishes.
What About National Cemeteries?
Thanks to the work of countless activists, laws have been passed to ensure that LGBTQ+ veterans are eligible to be buried in military or national cemeteries. However, you will need to secure the services of a funeral director to arrange these benefits.
Depending on where you want to be buried, you may need to provide documentation about any name change and the proper discharge paperwork. If you are married, your spousal benefits are the same as any married couple. This includes life insurance, flag presentation, full military honors, and more.
X Gender Marker
If you have the “X” gender marker on an updated birth certificate, find out if your state recognizes it. This is especially important if you changed your birth certificate in a previous state of residence that recognized it, then moved somewhere that doesn’t.
Contact your family attorney to avoid complications with any insurance claims or legal paperwork.
Put Everything in Writing
Many different kinds of families disagree with each other about end-of-life care and funeral plans. This is especially true with given or chosen families in the LGBTQ community. They might not support or even be aware of their loved one’s sexual orientation, gender identity, name, etc.
When making plans for this stage of life, and death, be open and honest with loved ones about what you want. These types of tender talks prevent arguments and disagreements when you’re gone.
Most importantly, create written legal documents with all of this information.
When someone dies, grieving loved ones might forget or feel too overcome with emotion to think rationally. Legally binding documents with clear instructions help everyone get on the same page. Include your end-of-life care plan, funeral decisions, and other specific wishes.
To learn more about funeral planning, visit our Wise Planning Page. Our Wise Planning System has various tools that can help you with whatever kind of funeral planning you need, whether it is LGBTQ funeral planning or planning for other types of communities.
Catherine Durkin Robinson was recently featured in an article in the Chicago Tribute. Click here to read the story.