Next of Kin and Same-Sex Marriage

wedding-ringsThe historic Supreme Court ruling on June 26, 2015 paved the way for the freedom to marry nationally. Marriage licenses are now being issued to same-sex couples in states and counties across the country. Married same-sex couples now enjoy the same legal rights and benefits as married heterosexual couples and will be recognized on official documents such as birth and death certificates.

Married same-sex spouses who wish to be cremated are subject to the same laws as heterosexual couples regarding cremation as well.

Same-Sex Marriage and At-Need Cremation

At-need cremations are cremations services that are arranged at the time of death. The process for a same-sex couple to have a deceased spouse cremated at-need should not differ from the process for any other couple.

In many locations, in order for the cremation to take place, the next-of-kin must sign an authorization form or declaration for disposition of cremated remains. All cremations must be authorized by the individual’s next-of-kin, regardless of whether a cremation plan has been made in advance. For married individuals with a surviving spouse, the spouse is considered to be the next-of-kin “authorizing agent” responsible for authorizing the cremation. Please note that cremation regulations may vary by geographical location and family situation.

Since the Supreme Court ruling, a same sex-surviving spouse is afforded the same legal rights in this area as any other spouse. The same-sex surviving partner is named on the death certificate and is also the person whose signature on the cremation authorization is required in order to proceed with cremation.

Same-Sex Marriage and Pre-Need Cremation

Pre-need cremation services are cremations that are arranged before the time of death (or time of need). Again, the authorization process for a same-sex married couple that wishes to pre-arrange their cremation plans is essentially the same as the process for any other married couple.

The only challenge here is the same one that would be faced by any married couple; that is, their state’s laws with regard to personal preference for cremation. Some states do not guarantee that personal preference for cremation will be honored. However, this is not an issue in most states, according to the National Funeral Directors Association, as more than half of states have personal preference laws, which allow individuals to designate their funeral or cremation wishes in advance.

Same-Sex Marriage and Cremation: What Has Changed?

In the past, in order to have their rights recognized, a same-sex couple often needed to take advantage of certain states’ “designated agent” laws, which allow individuals who are not next-of-kin family members or married spouses to carry out the deceased person’s wishes with regard to cremation services. Same-sex couples could name their partners as designated agents in order to ensure preferences for cremation were honored, as their marriages did not have legal standing in all states.

Today, these loopholes are no longer necessary; same-sex surviving spouses are considered the next-of-kin family member. With the Supreme Court ruling, a married same-sex couple has the same legal rights as a heterosexual couple, including the right for the surviving spouse to carry out their loved one’s final wishes for disposition.

Neptune Society respects the rights of all individuals, and we are committed to treating all couples with respect. For more information about how same-sex marriage may impact your cremation plans, please contact your nearest Neptune Society representative today.

Special thanks to Laura Anderson, Service Manager of the Neptune Society Minneapolis, Minnesota for her support and contributions to this post.


The Neptune Society is the nation’s oldest and largest provider of affordable cremation services. Whether you have an immediate need or want to plan cremation services in advance, we are always available to assist you and your family.

Call 1-800-NEPTUNE (800-637-8863) today or contact us online to learn more.