In the springing steps of new love, newlyweddedness, and newborns, we become absorbed with, like my spouse likes to say, the “bubble and squeak” of it all. And as the bubbles grow fewer and the squeakiness turns to creakiness in the golden and platinum years, we start to plan our farewells and what that should look like in honor of our loving relationships. That planning is sometimes truncated by accelerated medical challenges but more often than not, the planning is executed without much challenge. Loved ones are able to celebrate the dearly departed in dignity and honor and friends and family join in the celebration and do what they can to console and uplift the grieving. That is, this is the farewell achievable for couples who resemble couples of 40 years ago.
For LGBTQ couples, who are even lawfully married, post Obergefell, planning farewells is often not that easy.
The heartbreaking story of Jack Zawadski and Bob Huskey illuminates this additional post-Obergefell challenge:
Jack and Bob were a loving couple of more than half a century. Upon retirement, they moved from Colorado to Mississippi and were married in 2015, shortly after the Obergefell ruling. Before moving to Picayune, Mississippi, Bob was diagnosed with a cardiac condition that worsened to the point that, ultimately, during the last few years of his life, Jack became his caregiver. A year after marrying, the couple acknowledged that Bob’s death was imminent. He was eventually placed in a nursing home near the couple’s community in Picayune.
So Jack could focus on his last days with Bob, John, Bob’s nephew and dear friend of the couple, took on the responsibility of searching for a funeral home that could provide services in Picayune. Services in their community meant Bob’s body would not have to be transferred far and the couple’s friends and family could focus on helping each other through the grieving period.
Searching online, John found the Brewer Funeral Homes. He contacted the Funeral Home and entered into a verbal agreement with the owners, Ted and Henrietta Brewer, for their services. The parties agreed to price, logistics of signing the paperwork, transportation of the body, and disposition of remains. The Brewers told John that they just needed the nursing home to contact them when Bob died and everything would be properly handled.
The funeral home’s paperwork required the signature of next of kin. Bob died and Jack signed the paperwork as surviving spouse.
When the Brewers received the paperwork indicating Jack was next of kin as surviving spouse, that they would be servicing a gay couple, they absolutely refused to provide the agreed upon services.
John eventually found services 90 miles away. However, Bob’s body had to be moved from the nursing home before that service was available, so another funeral home was required to be involved to “hold” the body. Furthermore, because everything was last minute and far away, friends from Picayune couldn’t attend the services. Needless to say, this is not what Jack and Bob had wanted. So Jack and John sued the funeral home, alleging Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress, Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress, Breach of Contract, and Negligent Misrepresentation.
Unfortunately, Jack died in December of 2017 and a petition was filed to substitute John as a plaintiff. Then Masterpiece Cakeshop was decided… However, another case was decided a few days after Masterpiece Cakeshop that may have truncated its reach and another legislative attempt to undermine the rights of LGBTQ families was recently thwarted. So, more to come.
For now, we hope that people realize that estate planning isn’t just about getting valid instruments in order, especially if your family doesn’t resemble the other 80% of American families.