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When My Wife Died I Got a Bill for $300,000

Midori Fujii,
Plaintiff in Fujji, et al. v. Indiana Governor, et al.
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March 19, 2014

As a lesbian of Asian descent, I hear not very kind comments based on gender, ethnicity, or sexual orientation often enough. Most of the time I can blame ignorance, not take it personally, and not let it bother me. But the way I was treated when my wife Kris died, that one really hurt.

I met Kris in 1997 when we were both serving on the board of directors of a local nonprofit organization. We fell in love and married in Los Angeles in the summer of 2008.

Months later, Kris was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and went through multiple surgeries, hospitalizations, and treatments. During the last several weeks of Kris’ life, I was pretty much home with Kris all the time.

Eventually Kris succumbed to the illness and died at home.

Like any widow, I had to make arrangements for Kris with a local funeral home. I chose one that offered cremation services. The day after Kris passed away, I went to the funeral home and introduced myself as Kris’ life partner and explained that we were married and that I would be making all the arrangements. The funeral director agreed on the arrangements, and I paid for their services.

I drove home and soon after received a call from the funeral director. He told me that since I was a “third party” and not related to Kris, and because Kris had parents who were both alive, one of the parents needed to provide the signature to arrange for the cremation. I told him that I had Kris’ power of attorney, but he said that the power of attorney wasn’t good enough. He explained it was only good until the death of the person, and it didn’t mean anything once the person had died.

Obviously, I was very upset by the news. I felt humiliated that I was being reduced to a person with “no relationship” to my wife, and they were fine taking my money, but that was all I was good for!

Eventually, my lawyer was able to resolve the situation when he pointed out that my power of attorney clearly included my ability to arrange for the cremation. But my story doesn’t end there.

Because my marriage to Kris is not recognized in Indiana, I am being forced to pay more than $300,000 in Indiana inheritance tax on all of the property that she left to me, including the home we shared for more than a decade. If Kris were a man I would have paid no inheritance tax on the property she left me.

The state’s refusal to recognize my marriage to Kris is about more than economic hardship and logistical burdens. My best friend, the woman I loved with all my heart, died. In my grief, I am denied the comfort and dignity of being acknowledged as Kris’ wife, and now widow.

Midori is one of 13 plaintiffs represented by the ACLU and attorney Sean Lemieux of the Lemieux Law Office in Indianapolis in our lawsuit seeking the freedom to marry in Indiana.

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