Blended families face challenges and complexities in finding a way to leave assets to their spouses, stepchildren, children from previous marriages, ex-spouses, and other various people who become “family” when two existing families are combined.
A particularly painful, often overlooked, problem for blended families is: if you remarry, where are you buried after you pass away? Will your children reunite you with your first spouse? Or will your second spouse bury you in a new plot where he or she will join you in the future? Whichever the answer, there is a high probability there will be a fight about it!
Even the Kennedys Have This Problem.
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis is buried next to John F. Kennedy, not Aristotle Onassis. Writer Jack Kerouac remains buried by his third wife, but only after his daughter from his second marriage lost her fight to disinherit him. Seem a little extreme? Some funeral directors claim fights such as this occur at least once a week. Over 40% of marriages today have a spouse who has been previously married.
In a recent situation, a son was fighting with his father’s new spouse about whether to bury his dad next to his deceased mother, or in a plot where his new stepmother would one day rest beside him. In Michigan, where this case occurred, the law lets the current spouse make the burial decisions, so the stepmother won. However, the funeral director informed the son that once his step mom passes away, he becomes his father’s next of kin and can legally disinter him and move the body.
The son promptly told his stepmother that she could bury his dad wherever she likes, but he will move the body as soon as she dies. Realizing her loss of control, the stepmom agreed to let her husband be buried next to his first wife, and refused to attend the funeral. This example shows how complicated blended family issues can become.
The Law Preempts?
Even people who write down burial instructions can get foiled by the law. The surviving spouse is allowed to make the burial decision in 60% of states. Some states have passed laws to allow written burial instructions by the decedent to prevail. Illinois and Kansas let you designate someone to make your funeral arrangements for you. This was partially in response to situations where gay lifetime partners had no legal ability to influence funeral arrangements.
To complicate matters, religious beliefs can also direct burial arrangements. For example, the Jewish custom is that if a deceased person does not leave any instructions, they should be buried with the person with whom they had children.
To some, being buried in a military cemetery carries great prestige and honor. The family of a veteran is allowed to be buried in the cemetery; however, if the veteran remarries, the first spouse may lose that right even if his or her children are buried there.
A Growing Issue
As the number of blended families continues to grow, this issue will become more and more common and will continue to tear families apart. Some current suggestions from funeral directors are:
Cremation, which enables the deceased’s remains to be divided between spouses and children;
Have the new spouse purchase a burial plot in the same vicinity as the deceased and his/her previous spouse;
Leave written instructions (though not always legally binding, the families will often adhere to them).
Dealing with these often overlooked issues in a thoughtful and caring way will enable blended families to think them through before they result in hurtful confrontations.