Rights of the undead
You won’t need a cab to find a priest –
Maybe you should find a place to stay –
Some place where they never change the sheets –
And you just roll around Denver all day
“Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead”
At this time of year, one’s thoughts naturally turn to the dark and ghoulish. So as zombies seem to be flavour of the month (so to speak), I am minded to explore their potential commercial and legal rights and obligations. It’s important work. Imagine your chagrin if the zombie apocalypse came and you found yourself zombiefied without a basic awareness of your legal entitlements.
Fortunately, according to CURE (Citizens for Undead Rights and Equality), the living dead are entitled to some basic rights. Unfortunately, in many fundamental areas, the law appears completely unprepared for the legal challenges that will arise when the undead walk the earth.
It doesn’t appear that the dead can own property. However they can exert some posthumous control by placing the property in a trust. How long the trust can last, and the degree of control it has are contentious.
The newly-fledged zombie might be better off avoiding the whole “dead” label, and leaving property in trust to itself for its own care and maintenance.
Unfortunately, the position in Australia at least, seems to be that a beneficiary must be a person in order for the courts to decree performance. And, in order for a valid trust to be created, a gift must be made to a charitable body.
I think a more foresighted person, in fear of being zombified, would establish and register a charitable trust to care for the welfare of zombies in general. Or possibly a religion. Consult your tax advisor for the most tax-effective arrangement.
Opinions differ on whether it is legal to kill or otherwise dispose of a zombie. The consensus seems to be that zombies are already dead, and so you are not committing a crime by disposing of one. However, depending on the methods of dispatch and disposal, you may be liable for a number of related offences, including:
- Intentional discharge of firearms within city limits.
- Possession of an illegal weapon (e.g. flamethrower).
- Desecration of a corpse.
In many jurisdictions, the death of a person creates a tax liability which must be settled by a person’s estate. But what if a person rises from the dead? In many cases of zombieness and in various jurisdictions, it may be quite unclear whether someone has in fact died before becoming a zombie. And even if they did die under the prevailing law, does the legal fact of their death become a nullity if they come back? Can they, like someone lost in the jungles of Guatemala for seven years and declared dead, seek a reversal of the declaration and a refund of estate tax? Or would they, like John Darwin, face prosecution for pretending to be dead and claiming on insurance?
Things get even more complicated in the US, where it is entirely possible for a zombie to be dead under state law and legally alive for federal tax purposes.
Perhaps we should draw comfort from Douglas Adams. He foresaw a future in which, for Hotblack Desiato at least, spending a year dead for tax purposes was a perfectly normal thing to do. Hopefully Douglas will be back from his own tax holiday at some point.
I think insurance is a less complex problem, and insurance adjusters seem to have already devoted some thought to it. A typical zombie insurance policy will cover:
- Indefinite home and/or pet care for insured under indefinite quarantine
- Zombie infection as a direct result of dark magic
- Coverage against infection, transition, zombification and complete zombification as a direct result of black magic.
- The Apocalypse
- Extended protection against loss of usefulness (in excess of 1 year)
- Health care for detection and/or early stages of zombification and complete zombification
- Bodily damage to company of insured or household of insured
Let’s assume that you are covered under something relatively immune to the zombie apocalypse (say term life insurance) and your descent into zombiehood arose from an insurable event such as infection by a virus or mad scientist. The only real question seems to be philosophical.
Is becoming a member of the walking dead covered under death, or total and permanent disability? If it is a death benefit, then I guess the zombie must name someone else as beneficiary. Which could be a thorny problem in the face of an apocalypse. Perhaps if the zombie apocalypse is looming, it would be wise to set up a trust as beneficiary for any policies, tax refunds, government compensation etc, in case everyone you know gets zombified.
In Kentucky, dead people can sign up for health care. Until recently, thousands of dead and even imaginary people were drawing pensions in the Punjab. No doubt an astute zombie or zombie owner will find a way to get their name on a Medicare card. It is a little difficult, though, to know what benefits to apply for. Are bandages and deodorant available under the Pharmaceutical Benefit scheme? Perhaps dentistry and orthopedics would be good ancillary benefits for repairing the inevitable wear and tear of post-life existence.
In the UK, it is a well-established principle of law that ‘there is no property in a corpse’, i.e. the law does not regard a corpse as property protected by rights. So there at least, I think it would probably not be possible to own zombies, even if they were not self-aware and thus subject to anti-slavery laws. And obviously, if they are not property, you can’t purchase them. However you might be able to rent them to, hmm, stand around and moan at people you don’t like? Would that fall under the definition of professional services? Perhaps if it was really expert moaning…
Provided there is no public health risk, and they remain indoors, it seems to be OK for zombies to walk around. It is the duty of the zombie or its carers to ensure that it is kept clean and in good condition.
It is unlawful most places to disturb or remove a body after burial without lawful authority. This raises the question of zombie resurrection.
If a body removes itself, is this a crime?
One can also argue that, let alone other criminal offences, the mad scientist or alien invader, by releasing the zombie virus or brain-sucking parasite, has committed a crime in that they have caused a body to disinter itself.
Further complexities arise if zombification turns out to be reversible. As an unfortunate man in Ohio recently found out, just because you are warm and walking around, it doesn’t mean a court is prepared to let you return to life.
As a parting note, I would just like to apologise sincerely to all the lawyers that I know. You are all fine people and deserve better than this kind of distasteful parody. But hey, as per the further reading below, you started it…
- Chodorow, Adam, Death and Taxes and Zombies (July 5, 2012). 98 Iowa Law Review 1207 (2013). Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2045255