In a recent column of The Ethicist in the New York Times, a reader posed a difficult question: A dying friend asked a man to ensure his mistress was able to attend his funeral, against the wishes of the man’s wife.
What to do? And what should you do when the people who are arguably closer to the person dying, and who know him or her better, are not the ones entitled to make final arrangements?
Thanks to a little-known NY State Law, anyone can appoint an agent to control the disposition of their remains. This form doesn’t need to be witnessed or even filed with a clerk, and can be revised as often as desired.
When first made law, it was intended to help protect gay couples who were being kept from making such decisions or even attending the funerals of their loved ones. However, in practice, it has had much larger implications: a man can appoint his mistress over his wife, a mother can appoint one child and not the others. The only area that it gives that person control is in the final disposition- so it doesn’t make you executor of a the will or the controller of the bank accounts. But it can help people ensure their final wishes are carried out in the manner they desire
As for the Ethicist- I agree with the writer. If the mistress’ presence will upset the family, she should keep her distance. The funeral is for the family, and they deserve to mourn without distraction.