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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
November 3, 2006

Partners can control funerals under new law

Columbus--Same-sex couples can now legally designate each other to make their funeral decisions, under an Ohio law that took effect October 12.

The measure allows adults to designate a person to decide what will happen to their remains after they die, giving that person complete authority over funeral, burial and cremation decisions.

If someone dies without naming a representative, those decisions will be made by a legally-married, opposite-sex spouse or an immediate family member.

Before the law took effect, current spouses always took precedence in deciding the disposition of remains, followed by a hierarchy of other immediate family members.

Same-sex partners were often left out, and sometimes family members who had been estranged for years arranged funerals against a long-time partner�s wishes, and even shut them out.

�The way it benefits our community is, I can name my partner� to control the funeral arrangements, said Cleveland attorney Joan M. Burda. �Before the law changed, my parents would still have priority rights.�

While Burda is close to her parents, many LGBT people are not, having been estranged from or disowned by them.

There have been prominent cases around the country where biological families have stepped in and seized houses and property that same-sex couples shared for decades, until one died.

In situations like that, the surviving partner also had no say in where their loved one was buried, or whether they were cremated, or the style and content of the funeral.

�This is great for us because we can name our partners as the person to make our funeral arrangements, and that trumps [everyone else] under Ohio law. We have that right now,� Burda emphasized.

�If you don�t have a will, have one drafted,� added Burda, who wrote Estate Planning for Same-Sex Couples for the American Bar Association in 2005. �I think a lot of members of our community don�t take the actions that they need, and we don�t have a lot of legal protections, and even fewer in Ohio.�

�I also recommend people don�t do it themselves, because if they screw it up, they won�t know until they�re dead, and then it�s too late,� she concluded.

The new law also regulates the advance sales of funeral, burial and cremation services. The �right of disposition� part was included to prevent situations like one Burda noted, where a man wrote up a document assigning power of disposition to his children after his wife died, then later remarried.

When he passed away, even though his children had the papers in hand, the law as it stood then gave his second wife complete power over the funeral, leaving his children out. Under the new law, his designation would take priority.

The measure, which was introduced as House Bill 426 late last year, passed the Ohio House of Representatives in February and the Ohio Senate in May. It was sent to Gov. Bob Taft�s desk in July, where he signed it almost immediately.

In an ironic twist, two of the Ohio House�s most anti-gay members co-sponsored the bill: State Reps. Bill Seitz of Cincinnati and Linda Reidelbach of Columbus.

Seitz, along with Citizens for Community Values in Sharonville, was one of the main forces behind the 2004 constitutional amendment that barred recognition of same-sex marriages and any other construct that would �approximate the design, qualities, significance or effect of marriage.�

But with this new law, Seitz himself had a hand in granting more legal rights to same-sex couples in Ohio.

 

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