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Missing Bodies and Death Declarations (with a side of road kill and zombie debt – oh my!)


How do you declare someone dead when there is no body?

I should probably save this for a Day of the Dead post, but, appearances notwithstanding, I’m blogging about Legal Research and the Living so … full speed ahead. (Previous posts about road kill & zombie debt.)

1) Check your state laws, forms, and procedures first and, if you are a lawyer, ask your lawyer colleagues for shortcuts and anecdotes too.

2) Context, context, context: declarations of death may be an insurance matter, a police matter, a probate matter — and it all matters!

3) Sometimes what is required is a petition for a declaratory judgment. In Oregon, you might start with ORS Chapter 28, but don’t forget that Index! You’re a legal researcher, not a drone or a zombie, remember? (And, please, consult an attorney. It can save you a lot of time and money, and heartbreak, not to mention the cost of a few trips to the law library, and court, in a few years by an attorney who is trying to fix what should have been done right to begin with.)

4) You will also want to look for case law, partly because the PROOF is in the pudding, or in the petition, and you need some idea of the standards of proof and review in your jurisdiction. (Aside: if you get a chance to see Proof, the play, do so. One of my favorites.)

5) You will also want to look in one of the best but most frequently overlooked legal reference sources available to lawyer-kind. Zillions of new lawyers look at me blankly when I ask, “have you checked Am Jur’s Proof of Facts?” Then, after they “do as I say,” there is joy all around.

6) As of this date, there is at 45 AmJur POF 3d 307 (2008), this article: “Presumption or Inference of Death from Unexplained Disappearance.

7) There is more, but if I told you then you’d never visit the law library and experience the joy too.

Isn’t legal research grand?