The people's voice of reason

Even After You Are Dead Can There Be Legal Consequences?

The question sounds almost silly (pardons to the submitting reader), but there are legal consequences of sorts and in many years gone by it was taken much more seriously in certain cases.

Beginning with life insurance, the industry typically will not pay life insurance proceeds to beneficiaries in cases where someone has taken their own life within two years (may vary by company) of the policy being issued. So if anyone is so compelled to financially benefit their beneficiaries, they will have about two years to think about it after having the policy issued and hopefully by that time their life will seem much brighter and the prior issues are hopefully resolved or at least tolerable to live with.

Have you ever heard of a “suggestion of death”? It has always seemed that you are dead or you are not. In a civil case for instance if a party to the suit dies during the trial then a “suggestion of their death” is submitted to the Court so that one of a few legal variables might take place.

Then there is a presumption of death in Alabama. Code of Alabama, 1975, §43-8-6

In proceedings under this chapter the rules of evidence in courts of general jurisdiction including any relating to simultaneous deaths, are applicable unless specifically displaced by the chapter. In addition, the following rules relating to determination of death and status are applicable:

(3) A person who is absent for a continuous period of five years, during which he has not been heard from, and whose absence is not satisfactorily explained after diligent search or inquiry is presumed to be dead. His death is presumed to have occurred at the end of the period unless there is sufficient evidence for determining that death occurred earlier.

So you could return from a foreign prison, etc. after five years to find you are considered dead and all of your possessions distributed to family.

Even if living and you are divorced from someone who included you in a Last Will and Testament during marriage, you are treated as if you predeceased that person and of course get nothing if you survive them. The only exception is if there are provisions made even after divorce from the former spouse.

After your death your estate takes on it’s own life of sorts. During probate your financial accounts are placed into an estate account, which requires its own EIN (something like its own Social Security number so it can pay taxes if your estate generates enough income). Your estate will be expected to pay for your funeral, burial, cost of last illness, administration of your estate, taxes of your employees, personal taxes if any and your debts or obligations.

But here is the interesting and archaic part and I want to credit my friend, Dr. Bill Helvie for enlightening me to this Latin term, felo de se or “felon of himself”. This amounted to an adult who committed suicide also committed a felony. And today we would say, “so”? But in yesteryear under English Common Law it meant something.

The offending now dead individual forfeited his property to the King. That could be bad for the family, but that was not the end of the shame to the memory of the offender. The person committing suicide would be buried usually at night with a stake driven through the heart and at a crossroad. Additionally no mourners or clergy would be allowed and the authorities would not disclose the location of the burial to the loved ones.

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries suicide became to be considered as an act during temporary insanity and the jury of the coroner began to consider those committing suicide as non compos mentis as opposed to felo de se. In the early 1700’s, non compos mentis had replaced ninety percent as the suicide verdict though there was a report in 1866 of an English prisoner who took his own life while awaiting a death sentence. The jury did provide a verdict of felo de se.

Felo de se was expanded to include those killed while committing a felony. Section One of the Suicide Act of 1961 took away the criminal element of suicide. The burial components of a person taking their own life changed for the better under the 1823 Burial of Suicide Act and the 1882 Interments Act.

This article is informative only and not meant to be all inclusive. Additionally this article does not serve as legal advice to the reader and does not constitute an attorney- client relationship. The reader should seek counsel from their attorney should any questions exist.

"No representation is made that the quality of legal services performed is greater than the quality of legal services performed by other lawyers."

Mailing address:

Ronald A. Holtsford, Esq.

Ronald A. Holtsford, LLC

7956 Vaughn Road, Box #124

Montgomery, AL 36116

(334) 220-3700


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