Should a Dead Person’s Wishes Be Fulfilled?
The needs of the living take precedence over the wishes of the dead.
This statement does not violate Q1 unless you might demand that someone’s last wishes be carried out regardless of the situation.
This statement does not violate Q2, but you should consider under what conditions the needs of the living trump those of the dead or risk approving of your own last wishes being trumped by simple desires.
Although it is generally accepted that respect should be given to a deceased person’s final wishes (in the form of a will, deathbed request, etc.), it is also generally accepted that final wishes that seems insane or would cause harm can be put aside (for example, a will that stipulates the deceased must be cremated with his wife — whether she’s dead at the time or not). But in cases that are not so clear-cut, when do the wishes of the living overrule those of the dead?
Is simple preference on the part of the living enough to overrule the wishes of the dead? What if Grandma wanted to be buried but you think cremation is more environmentally responsible? Is the convenience of the living important? What if Grandma wanted to be buried in her home town but the whole family has moved to another state?
What if the living dislike the wishes of the dead? Say Grandma leaves all her money to a cat hospital but the grandchildren think they should inherit something? Or if she leaves more money to a favored child than she leaves to her other children? And what if the deceased’s wishes are morally objectionable — such as a stipulation that you will not inherit if you marry a white person or are divorced?
And how long should the dead’s wishes be honored? If a hundred-year-old will stipulates that the family mansion should never be sold, how long should that be binding? Could a distant ancestor’s wish to be buried on a hill overlooking his homestead be allowed to stand in the way of a highway project that would level the hill?
The question of time becomes even more important when we are dealing with historical figures. Should the graves of people from thousands of years ago be maintained in the way they would have wanted them to be maintained? What if we are not sure what their wishes would have been, or if their graves now have scientific or historical value?
On top of all this, do you want your wishes to be honored after you die? Most people do, so — by Q2 — we honor the last wishes of others. But how far should that go? Would you really want your wishes to be followed if they had unintended negative consequences?
In which of these situations would you obey the wishes of the deceased?
- A man leaves all his money to his son, but after his death it is discovered that he had a daughter he didn’t know about.
- A man leaves half his money to his wife, and half to his mistress, who nobody in the family knew about.
- There is just enough money from insurance to ship a woman’s body back to Ireland where she wanted to be buried, but she leaves copious debts behind.
- A year before he dies, an old man marries a gorgeous young woman and promises that she will receive 20% of his estate, with the balance going to his children.
- A man asks for his cremated remains to be baked into a cake and a slice sent to each of his business rivals.
- A woman disinherits her adult son because he spilled a soda on her knitting when he was four.
- Moments before his death, a lifelong atheist asks that his will be ignored and everything he has be given to the church.
- Moments before his death, a lifelong atheist asks that his will be ignored and everything he has be given to the church except for enough money to buy him a pony and some gum.
- A woman wants breast implants and a pricey dress for her funeral.
- A man asks that his estate be divided evenly among his family and the employees of the business he spent his life building.
You are encouraged to leave your answers to the questions posed in this post in the comments section. This post is based on an excerpt from Ask Yourself to be Moral, by D. Cancilla, available at LuLu.com and Amazon.com. See the 2Q system page for details of the philosophical system mentioned in this post.