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View Full Version : Legal consequences of a faking a death (US)



melindamusil
07-09-2014, 04:51 AM
Specifically I'm wondering about the US, though I'm sure other nations' laws would still be interesting.

If you fake your death in order to collect life insurance and/or escape a mountain of debt, I know you'd have to repay and likely would face charges of fraud or theft.

If you fake your death to escape some criminal charges (say, you were charged with murder and "conveniently" died), I know you'd still face those earlier charges, plus possibly additional charges related to the escape.

But outside of those situations, are there any charges specifically elated to faking your death? What if you just want to get away, maybe escape a dysfunctional family or something?

In other words - is it against the law to fake your death?

jclarkdawe
07-09-2014, 04:59 AM
There is no law against disappearing if you are over the age of 18. There are laws against committing fraud, which would be the case if you "faked" your death.

Simple solution, used a lot, is park your car at a wilderness area or an ocean or great lake, and make sure you aren't seen leaving the scene. Grab public transportation as soon as you can to get away from the scene, or walk a few miles and stick out your thumb.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

melindamusil
07-09-2014, 05:21 AM
Thanks Jim. That's what I thought, but since I'm not a lawyer, I didn't feel very confident. :)

kaitie
07-09-2014, 05:22 AM
You just made me wonder something. How would people know you faked your death? I mean, obviously if you did something like leave blood behind or try to make it look like your boat sank or something, people would assume you were dead and that would be the obvious assumption, but if you just left a car somewhere and walked away and started over, would that really be considered faking a death?

Wouldn't a person in those circumstances need several years to be declared dead? And wouldn't that be based solely on the fact that they'd disappeared?

So could you be charged with fraud for faking your death if all you did was essentially run away from your life? Or, could you be convicted? Wouldn't they have to prove you intended for everyone to assume you were dead?

jclarkdawe
07-09-2014, 05:45 AM
You just made me wonder something. How would people know you faked your death? I mean, obviously if you did something like leave blood behind or try to make it look like your boat sank or something, people would assume you were dead and that would be the obvious assumption, but if you just left a car somewhere and walked away and started over, would that really be considered faking a death? No. You just left your car someplace. There's no way to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you did this to fake your death.

Wouldn't a person in those circumstances need several years to be declared dead? Yes, it could take a long time. And wouldn't that be based solely on the fact that they'd disappeared? Yes. But it's disappeared and hadn't been heard from since.

So could you be charged with fraud for faking your death if all you did was essentially run away from your life? No. People have shown up years later after disappearing. Might have problems with your relatives and things like that, but there's no law enforcement issue. Or, could you be convicted? Wouldn't they have to prove you intended for everyone to assume you were dead? They'd have to prove the elements of fraud, which would be next to impossible to do.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

melindamusil
07-09-2014, 05:47 AM
Kaitie, I guess I should have phrased it, "faked your death and then came back sometime later". Thanks for catching that!

raelwv
07-09-2014, 06:14 AM
Here's a somewhat recent case (http://circuit4.blogspot.com/2013/03/fake-distress-call-that-summons-coast.html) where a guy faked his own death and was convicted of conspiring to have a fake distress call made to the Coast Guard. It was to avoid a probation violation (didn't work, obviously), but it's a different offense, at least.

jclarkdawe
07-09-2014, 06:16 AM
Do some searching on the internet. Here's one story -- 'Dead' Man Missing For 20 Years Returns, Wants to Be ... (http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=6&ved=0CEcQFjAF&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.dnainfo.com%2Fnew-york%2F20131203%2Feast-village%2Fdead-man-missing-for-20-years-returns-wants-be-declared-alive&ei=96S8U_GMFMe1yAT74oLACg&usg=AFQjCNGlIrC5QlF5IcXQ_M0Yt8XDX4Vphg&sig2=uAAoRPmrELXjM1EqdHJJ3g&bvm=bv.70138588,d.aWw)

There's a woman who just was rediscovered in Pennsylvania a year or so ago. There's a lot of these cases out there if you start looking for them.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

chompers
07-09-2014, 06:47 AM
Why is it a fraud? I mean, if you're trying to avoid being convicted of some crime, or something like that, I can see how that would be fraud.

But what if you just wanted to start over? What if later on someone recognized you. If there was a name change and all that stuff, because you wanted to leave your old life behind, why would it be fraud to do so, as long as you're not trying to get away with something?

Is it fraud because of the new legal documents you'd have to come up with? Or just the fact that you faked your death?

jclarkdawe
07-09-2014, 07:03 AM
If you're faking a death, there's a whole lot of other things that kick in. One is trying to procure a legal document (death certificate) by lying. Another is social security payments to your heirs. Another would be avoiding debt.

If you're faking a death, it's unlikely you do not commit fraud in some manner.

However, if you disappear, even if that leads to the conclusion that you're likely to be dead, involves no fraud. There's some fine lines involved here, and intent is a big factor here.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

frimble3
07-09-2014, 08:21 AM
And who you're trying to avoid. It might be that they're not looking that hard, especially in a 'dysfunctional' family. The family isn't very close, cards at Christmas, infrequent phone calls. The person disappearing just moves. Maybe mentions that they're moving (to a big city - hard to track) "Call you when I'm settled", etc. Then just doesn't call. Maybe moves a couple more times, never forwards an address or a number. This is harder with a close-knit family, of course, but it works if no-one's sending detectives after you.

I think the only other area for criminal charges would be if you vanish in such a way that it causes a massive man-hunt, search-and-rescue, road-blocks and door-to-door searches, etc. Especially if, years later, you return: "Just kidding!".

evilrooster
07-09-2014, 12:13 PM
And who you're trying to avoid. It might be that they're not looking that hard, especially in a 'dysfunctional' family. The family isn't very close, cards at Christmas, infrequent phone calls. The person disappearing just moves. Maybe mentions that they're moving (to a big city - hard to track) "Call you when I'm settled", etc. Then just doesn't call. Maybe moves a couple more times, never forwards an address or a number. This is harder with a close-knit family, of course, but it works if no-one's sending detectives after you.

Depends very heavily on the nature of the familial dysfunction. If the parents/relatives are controlling and intrusive -- the sort of people who turn up unnanounced, or who never let you move out in the first place -- then it might take a really plausible fake death to get them to stop.

(I know a number of families like that. It's a special kind of hideous.)

thedark
07-09-2014, 04:43 PM
Depends very heavily on the nature of the familial dysfunction. If the parents/relatives are controlling and intrusive -- the sort of people who turn up unnanounced, or who never let you move out in the first place -- then it might take a really plausible fake death to get them to stop.

(I know a number of families like that. It's a special kind of hideous.)

You know... you've given me some great ideas evilrooster. :)

Randy Lee
07-09-2014, 10:41 PM
I don't know how it's possible to disappear without breaking the laws relating to income taxes unless you stop earning income. Live off charity or live off the land or something like that.

Bolero
07-10-2014, 01:53 AM
What if you are paid up under your old name and pay under your new name?

ironmikezero
07-10-2014, 02:42 AM
From a federal perspective... There was a case where a guy tried that, filing an income tax return under his "new identity". Since his name wasn't legally changed (and duly recorded as so in a court of record) it was a violation of 18USC1001 (false statements) and a felony. Making up a social security number didn't help and only further exposed him to another series of charges.

http://codes.lp.findlaw.com/uscode/18/I/47/1001

thedark
07-10-2014, 04:20 AM
There are ways to legally adopt a new identity and keep it between yourself and the government, without informing your relatives, place of work or folks you tend to meet on a day-to-day basis.

But it's easiest to make a clean break of it, and start new somewhere else.

And don't ever go around making up soc numbers... how could he think that was a good idea??

WeaselFire
07-10-2014, 06:33 AM
I can't find any reference for it, but there was a magazine article many years ago (late 1970's?) about changing your identity. The writer went to a small town in Vermont, applied for a menial job, rented an apartment and started a new life under a new name. Nothing was illegal, even applying for a new social security number. The form asked if had previously been issued one, he answered yes and still got the new SS#.

Now, what do you need for your story?

Jeff

jclarkdawe
07-10-2014, 06:48 AM
It's become harder and harder to disappear. However, if you stay within the underground economy of the US, your chances of being discovered are slim.

The question here is whether the person's disappearance is the story or his reappearance? If it's a reappearance, then just make the disappearance happen 20 years ago.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

Steve Collins
07-10-2014, 06:25 PM
As a Private Investigator I've dealt with dozens of cases where somebody has taken out a life policy and the family come forward within the 2 year period (all claims are investigated if somebody dies within 2 years of taking out a policy) with a death certificate from another country (I've been to Haiti a couple of times, had one in Guatemala some in Egypt, Jamaica and Mexico) so it does happen quite a lot. I would reckon that in about 65% of the cases I threw enough doubt on the claim and the Insurance Company refused to pay out.

On the other hand it is more difficult (even with the databases available to me) to find somebody who stays in the US and simply goes missing (according to the Crime Library Reports of missing persons have increased sixfold in the past 25 years, from roughly 150,000 in 1980 to about 900,000 this year, with 2,300 people reported missing in the US every day). If they don't use credit cards, drive their vehicle, pay utilities in their own name or use their Social Security Number or passport it is very difficult to get a lead.

Hope this helps some?

frimble3
07-11-2014, 04:48 AM
Depends very heavily on the nature of the familial dysfunction. If the parents/relatives are controlling and intrusive -- the sort of people who turn up unnanounced, or who never let you move out in the first place -- then it might take a really plausible fake death to get them to stop.

(I know a number of families like that. It's a special kind of hideous.)
Yeah, I can see that being hard to escape - and why you'd want to.
My extended family is the other way. We have a cousin who basically disappeared. No-one's seen or heard of her in over 10 years. My sister's the one who first brought up the 'maybe she just wants to be lost'.
Which reminds me, I should give Sis a call. It's been a while. :)

LupineMoon
08-08-2014, 12:48 AM
The main character's brother faked his death and through his sister's investigations was found in "Thin Ice." I believe he was put on probation and possibly ordered to repay the cost of the investigation but I don't recall.