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Legally Dead

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"If a man watches three football games in a row, he should be declared legally dead."

Usually the result of Never Found the Body. The family/friends/authorities decide that a missing person is indeed deceased, and life can go on. Often leads to a Mistaken Death Confirmation or Reports of My Death Were Greatly Exaggerated. Can also lead to Finally Found the Body.

This can happen because the person:

  1. has been away for a long time (whether on a long journey, stranded, or captured).
  2. is the victim of a bureaucratic screwup.
  3. has been declared dead due to the nefarious schemes of others.
  4. has disappeared deliberately to hide.
  5. has disappeared after some disaster or other great peril.
  6. has seemingly vanished into thin air with no evidence whatsoever that they're amongst the living.
  7. has actually died, and formally it's enough even though they got better later (opposite of the Revival Loophole). Subtrope of Fantastic Legal Weirdness.
  8. has gone into some form or equivalent of Witness Protection.
  9. has been a victim of Death Faked for You, and a proper investigation was not conducted for whatever reason(s).

Note that in the fifth and sixth types of situations, it's likely that these people really are dead.

See also Undead Tax Exemption. Contrast Dead All Along.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Captive Hearts: Yoshimi inherited the Kougami Family's estate when the Kougamis were declared dead and he kept it until Suzuka was found alive. Her parents are eventually revealed to be alive as well.
  • In City Hunter, Ryo is legally dead since he was a child and the plane he was on with his parents was shot down abroad. Even if he's returned to Japan before the start of the series he had to do it as a stowaway, and can't hold a real job (thus being stuck as a Sweeper), own anything, administer his own money (Kaori does that for him), or marrying.
  • This happens to the main cast of Fairy Tail when Tenrou Island is attacked by Acnologia. They turn up alive...but when they do, seven years have passed.
  • GaoGaiGar: This was revealed in an audio drama with Guy Shishioh. When he was found alive after the EI-01 incident, in order to save his life using the newly found G-Stone, his father, Leo Shishioh was forced to submit Guy's death certificate and even hold Guy's public burial, so that Leo may proceed in saving his son's life while at the cost of turning him into a cyborg. Guy's girlfriend Mikoto was unaware of Guy being alive until Leo found Mikoto sobbing at Guy's grave, and secretly told her about the classified project.
  • It might be easier to start listing who isn't legally dead in Moriarty the Patriot.
    • Sebastian Moran was marked K.I.A. years pre-series.
    • Irene Adler is legally dead so she can take on the identity of James Bond and avoid her legal troubles.
    • Billy the Kid is legally dead and working for the US government.
    • Sherlock had a funeral after The Final Problem.
    • Presumably, so did William.
  • One Piece: "Cutty Flam" is considered legally dead after he was run over by the sea train, the Puffing Tom, and thus, all crimes under Cutty Flam's name are nulled. Cutty Flam's new legal name Franky was originally a nickname, and his Wanted posters have all the name "Franky" on them. The World Government knows they're the same person, but they can't do anything about Cutty Flam's crimes.
  • This happens to the entire crew of the Macross in Super Dimension Fortress Macross after the disastrous space fold out to Pluto. After not having any contact with the ship for months, the governments of Earth declared them deceased. This made things a little awkward when they returned, especially since none of the crew's former nations were willing to accept them back.

    Comic Books 
  • Green Arrow: The origin story since The Silver Age of Comic Books features Oliver Queen becoming stranded on an island & becoming a skilled archer as a means of survival. Originally, Ollie merely fell off a cruise ship; Post-Crisis, this was amended to Ollie being drunk at the time; and was later amended to being shot off the ship & becoming an archer to shut down a drug ring on the island.
  • Sometimes happen in Diabolik. Usually it's because the titular Villain Protagonist has faked his death again convincingly enough to convince the authorities he's in fact dead (and as they know he's prone to this, it takes quite some work. In one occasion he even had to fool a DNA test...), but on some occasion it's because he's helping someone by making them appear dead.
    • A completely accidental example is Walter Dorian: after noticing they were identical before the series, Diabolik tried to murder him to steal his identity, left him for dead in a river, and when arrested without his plastic masks and identified he confessed the murder... So when he managed to escape the men who kept him imprisoned for years Dorian found out he was this... And the authorities had confiscated all his properties because he had no heir.
  • In Sturmtruppen, Musolesi, in one of his early appearances, tripped while bringing boiling coffee to a general and immediately started claiming that he had "heroically fallen in the course of his duty"... Only for the bureaucracy to take him at his word and declare him dead, resulting in his personal effects being taken away and added to the inheritance his heirs divided among themselves and almost actually dying of starvation because the military cook, not getting rations for him, refused to feed him. He was eventually restored in the ranks as a "Soul of a Fallen Hero", and immediately proceeded to eat everything the cook had refused to feed him.

    Fan Works 
  • The Most Evil Trainer, a Pokémon Self-Insert, this trope gets Discussed; the main character, having already been in the Pokemon world for several years, mentions he has, in all likelihood, been declared this by his friends and family back home. It's a major part of his motivation to find a way back to his world as quickly as possible.
  • As we find out in a later chapter of the Kill la Kill fic Cellar Secrets, there was more to Ryuuko being an unperson, as she was this as well. While she had a delayed birth certificate, she didn't have a social security number and Ragyo, on a population survey, stated that she had died at birth, so, with those things in consideration and, when Soichiro died, her records or lack thereof was crossed with his. Fortunately, this wasn't hard to fix once the papers were sorted out.
  • The Fire Emblem: Three Houses fic The Ghost of Ochs is a Type 1 situation: After Monica disappeared from the Officers Academy for almost a year due to being kidnapped, her father formally called off the search for her after months without contact. Only the Church of Seiros knows of Monica's survival until she and Seteth attempt to write letters to her father to assure him of her safety. Baron Ochs does get her letters, but she doesn't hear anything back from him because someone had been stealing his response letters, prompting her to journey west to prove that she isn't dead.
  • In the Spice Girls fic Astral Journey: It's Complicated, both Emma and Melanie find themselves at this stage following the pitch accident and heart attack respectfully. They got better.
  • Retrospective mentions that since he vanished for over thirty years, the government of Romania considers Julius Belmont legally dead.
    Julius: So everybody knows I’m back, I was literally in Cluj-Napoca a few months ago, and plenty of people have seen me, but because it's not on paper I have to jump through a dozen hoops to convince the government that I’m a real person and not some sort of very complicated tax evasion scheme.
  • The Cabin: Melanie is declared dead after attempts to revive her. Of course, Emma had a second option.
  • Medicated, Due to being gone from Earth as an infant for 13 years after being kidnapped, Anne was this until she was found by the LAPD and returned to her birth parents.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Batman Begins: Bruce Wayne disappears for years in order to train in remote monasteries, etc. When he returns, Alfred mentions that bringing him back from the dead will have some legal implications. Namely, one of the executives at Wayne Enterprises had Bruce declared legally dead so the company would become open capital. He only avoids losing all his wealth because his will left everything to Alfred.
  • Mission: Impossible – Fallout: At the conclusion of the film, Solomon Lane is sent back to the custody of MI6 where he'd either be imprisoned for the rest of his natural life or executed for his many atrocities.
  • Move Over Darling: "Five years to the day after his wife Ellen (Doris Day) disappeared in the sea after a plane crash, lawyer husband Nicholas Arden (James Garner) has her declared legally dead, remarries and sets off to Monterey with new wife Bianca (Polly Bergen). The same morning, Ellen arrives home after being rescued by the Navy from a desert island and follows to try and prevent the honeymoon from developing further."
    • The remake 1940 RKO Screwball Comedy My Favorite Wife, in which wife Ellie Arden (Irene Dunne) has been shipwrecked for seven years on a desert island—coincidentally with handsome Stephen Burkett (Randolph Scott)—so husband Nick Arden (Cary Grant) has her declared legally dead, and marries elegant Ice Queen Bianca (Gail Patrick). Ellie and Stephen are rescued and return on the very day of the wedding — but after the ceremony itself. Hilarity Ensues.
  • Too Many Husbands: Bill Cardew is declared legally dead after a boating accident, based on a coast guard's report, so his wife marries his best friend and business partner Henry Lowndes six months later.
  • In Hackers, a competition between Dade and Kate to mess around with Secret Service Special Agent Richard Gill as much as possible is held, and Dade alters records to show that Gill has been legally declared dead.
  • In the horror film Absentia, Tricia's husband is declared legally dead after being missing for seven years. Then he comes back.
  • The movie Double Jeopardy deals with a man who staged his death AND framed his wife for his murder.
  • In The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, when Bilbo finally gets home, he returns to find his kin have declared him dead and are auctioning off his stuff. They pointedly refuse to even recognize him as alive without official proof.
  • In Cast Away, Chuck is declared dead after four years being stranded on an uninhabited island following a plane crash. It highlights the Bittersweet Ending of the movie as it emphasizes how he can't get his old life back, such as his wife having since remarried.
  • The 6th Day: One of the reasons why Drucker is so keen to keep the fact that he's a clone secret. As the law is written, he's already legally dead and thus his assets would be seized. The other is because he would also likely be destroyed. While the case he cites apparantly refers to a horribly-mutated prototype that was given a Mercy Kill, one can understand why he wouldn't want to take that chance.

  • Robin Hood: Happens in many of his appearances. Usually, his extended absence causes the Sheriff of Nottingham to seize his estate, which is why he takes to the forest.

  • In Gulliver's Travels in order to prevent the Struldbrugs from concentrating all wealth in their hands, they lose the right to own property, testify at court etc. at the age of eighty.
  • In Enoch Arden by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Enoch is shipwrecked for several years and declared dead. When he comes back, he finds that his wife is happily married to another man, and he decides not to reveal himself. (The films My Favorite Wife and Move Over, Darling were loosely based on this poem, but with a Gender Flip and a Revised Ending. Another 1940 film, Too Many Husbands, was also based on the story.)
  • The Hobbit: In the epilogue, Bilbo returns home to discover that he's been declared such by relatives, who are preparing to auction off his house and belongings. He takes it fairly well, all things considered, and manages to get most of his belongings back. He ends up buying a lot of it back with his newly acquired treasure out of simple expediency. Some eighty years later, in Return of the King, Mayor Samwise Gamgee has to declare Bilbo and his nephew Frodo legally dead by executive order after they pass into the West so that their estates can be executed, as everyone was reluctant to consider them dead after the first incident.
  • Tunnel in the Sky: Rod and Roy are quietly declared dead and mourned in a private ceremony after they're a month late from a scouting mission.
  • Played for dark comedy in Catch-22. 'Doc' Daneeka was in the habit of having pilots add his name to their plane's flight roster on occasion, so that he would qualify for flight pay. He never really was on any of the flights. Then a plane that has him listed on the flight roster crashes into a mountain. 'Doc' is declared legally dead by the Army, and he can't even get anyone to listen when he tries to explain that he's not dead, because as far as the Army is concerned he's dead.
  • Inverted with Commissar Ciaphas Cain, who has been erroneously declared dead on so many occasions that the military bureaucracy has a standing order to ignore all reports of his death and keep him on the active duty roster. This continued even after his actual death (and burial with full military honors).
  • A Series of Unfortunate Events: Lemony Snicket apparently was thought to be dead: his obituary was in the paper. While we don't know if this was a nefarious scheme, it probably was, considering the themes of the books.
  • In Honor Harrington: Ashes of Victory, the main character is declared dead after an enemy nation (who had indeed captured her previously) fakes her execution. Upon her return, the situation is milked for every last ounce of comedy as Honor tries in vain to get all of the memorials, statues, and starships named after her torn down or renamed.
  • In Ice Station, it turns out that Scarecrow has been officially killed in a training accident along with the rest of his unit. It seems that somebody's trying to cover up his mission...
  • Michael has Rosamund declare dead in the Knight and Rogue Series so his father will stop trying to have her brought home and she can marry her true love.
  • Hotblack Desiato, who's "spending a year dead for tax purposes" in the second The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy book, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, qualifies as a combination of #4 and #7—he's hiding out (from the tax bureau) by being both legally dead and kind of physically dead (but able to interact with his environment using psychkinesis), and the plan is to get better after a year.
  • In The House of the Spirits Uncle Marcos is declared dead after the wreckage of his experimental plane and allegedly some remains are found in the mountains. However, he turns up alive several days later, leading to a bureaucratic headache as his family attempts to have his legal death reversed.
  • In The Dresden Files book Ghost Story, readers learn that this has happened to Dresden after he was shot and his body fell into Lake Michigan at the end of Changes. Technically speaking he is dead, they just Never Found the Body. This is upgraded to Only Mostly Dead in the ending, when it turns out Mab with two other forces have had his body preserved and healed and is just waiting for his spirit to come back into it.
  • In Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, Frank Bennett simply vanishes from the scene. His truck turns up later, revealing the fact that he's been murdered, but the judge declares it an accidental death due to lack of evidence and the fact that the judge personally hated Frank.
  • In the book The Woman In The Wall, the titular protagonist's father has vanished and been declared legally dead, but it's implied that he's simply hiding in the walls of his workplace in the same way the protagonist does in the walls of her house.
  • Aignan, Conson's son, from A Void went missing thirty years before the story in Oxford.
  • Discworld: In Unseen Academicals it's revealed that the city of Ankh-Morpork has a similar ruling, although the consequences are not for the person who died. People who commit murder are hanged. If their victim is only briefly dead (being brought back by an Igor), they will only be briefly hanged. (However, this trope doesn't actually apply to Nutt, because he was brought back by his orc biology, not Igor, and therefore wasn't really dead.)
  • Harry Potter:
    • Peter Pettigrew faked his death to escape punishment.
    • And, of course, the crux of the first half of the series is that the general wizarding populace assumes this of Voldemort. The main characters, of course, know better, and the Ministry's initial refusal to back off this claim causes some major problems in the second half of the series.
  • October Daye once spent fourteen years as a fish. When the spell finally broke, she discovered that she had been legally dead for seven years.
  • A variant not involving disappearance occurs in the Newsflesh universe. Everyone is a Zombie Infectee, and it's possible for the infection to "amplify", which means it takes over the host, killing the mind while leaving an ambulatory zombie body. As a result, in this world, a positive test for amplification means the testee is legally deceased as of the time of the test, since while s/he may still be a functioning sentient being, s/he will not be for long, and those around the testee need to be able to protect themselves via Mercy Kill without winding up convicted of murder.
  • The plot of The Late Mattia Pascal is based upon the title character, who had led a very depressing life, sneaking off to Monte Carlo and acquiring a small fortune through luck and then finding out his badgering wife and mother-in-law identified an unknown body as his, leading to him decide to invent a new and better life as Adriano Meis. Eventually the difficulties of Adriano Meis not really existing prompt him to fake his death and go back to reclaim his life as Mattia Pascal, only to discover everyone has moved on and not having the will to ruin his wife's new life, thus he takes refuge in the local library and writes down his story with instruction to keep it unread until fifty years after his real death.
  • In The Mysterious Disappearance of Leon (I mean Noel), Mrs. Carillon searches for her husband, who has been missing for twenty years. Mr. Banks tells her that Noel is legally dead by now, and that if he were alive he would have asked for money at some point, but Mrs. Carillon is convinced he's still alive somewhere with amnesia.
  • The Hunger Games: Implied with Lucy Gray Baird, District 12's first victor in the titular Games. The prequel novel The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes has her vanish off the face of the Earth shortly after her Games, with her fate left unclear. However, near the beginning of the original trilogy (which takes place more than sixty years after Lucy Gray's Games) Katniss says that, of the two victors District 12 has produced up to that point, only Haymitch is still alive. This suggests that, after no trace was found of Lucy Gray, she was declared officially dead.
  • Rhythm of War: Queen Jasnah deals with a troublesome prince by goading him into a duel, stabbing him through the neck, having him magically healed right as he's about to die, and declaring that his "death" has caused all his titles and estates to pass to his heirs, leaving him powerless and penniless. It's legally tenuous, but given her rank and the circumstances, no one contests it.
  • Provenance: Criminals sent to Compassionate Removal, a life sentence on a Penal Colony, are declared dead under Hwaean law. After escaping, Garal Ket exploits this to become a Geck citizen and dodge the legal issues attached to their former identity.
    Deputy Chief: You came back from Compassionate Removal.
    Garal: No one comes back from Compassionate Removal. To enter Compassionate Removal is to die, to lose even the possibility of the name continuing. I can't possibly be the person you seem to think I am.
  • Shadow of a Dark Queen: Condemned criminals are forcibly recruited into a secret combat squad via a staged hanging. They're forced to wear the nooses at all times as a reminder that they've already been executed in the eyes of the law and will be actually executed if they don't perform adequately.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Arrowverse:
    • Arrow changes Green Arrow's origin to feature the Queen family's private yacht being destroyed in stormy weather (with sabotage apparently playing a part, too), but maintains Oliver surviving thanks to a life raft eventually taking him to a secluded island. Oliver has to go to court so a judge can formally reverse his Legally Dead status. The Queen family's lawyers must have had a field day dealing with the legal ramification of having a heir to the family fortune reappear.
    • Both Sara and Ray on Legends of Tomorrow are legally dead due to the former having been actually killed on Arrow note  and the latter having spent an extended period of time shrunk down and unable to regain his normal size. This causes them some problems when they have to reintegrate into society. Fortunately for them, they can get back to screwing with the timeline within months.
  • Baby Im Back: In 1978, this short-lived sitcom featured Demond Wilson (better known as the second half of the title pair of Sanford and Son) as a man who abandons his family, and returns after having been declared dead to try to reconcile with wife and children, his efforts being thwarted by his Deadpan Snarker former mother-in-law. It was presumably meant to be a modernized reworking of My Favorite Wife/Move Over Darling.
  • The Barrier:
    • Policemen living in a Police State exploit the fact that someone they used for a Fake Kill Scare (and had legally declared dead) is still alive to extend to the person an offer that boils down to "either you do dirty work for us or we make you dead for real".
    • This trope turns out to be the case for several of the children detained for Alma's experiments, who were often declared dead after being taken to a hospital.
  • Blake's 7: Travis, aided and abetted by Servalan. Given that the reason he needs to resort to this trope is Sevalan herself getting him court-martialed and sentenced to death after he screws up one time too many, this must be one of the strangest Pet the Dog moments in television history.
  • Burn Notice has recurring antagonist Larry Sizemore, a.k.a. "Dead Larry".
  • Notably averted in the third season of Daredevil (2015). Several months after Matt is supposedly crushed by a building at the end of The Defenders (2017), no one has even noticed he's missing. Justified as he was working as a pro bono lawyer, had no family, and his only friends were Foggy and Karen, who knew about his vigilante activities as Daredevil and how he allegedly died. To top it off, Karen is convinced he's still alive and has been paying his rent to he can't get evicted. All it does is emphasize how alone Matt was from pushing away all the people in his life.
  • Doctor Who:
    • The end of the episode "Doomsday" opens with Rose Tyler talking about the day she died, and at the very end of the episode, she is permanently trapped in an alternate universe with her mother, boyfriend and Alternate Universe!father. From the perspective of this universe's government, she has technically disappeared without any trace, and has been declared one of the victims of that day.
    • The Expanded Universe has Adric declared officially dead by the Deciders following his disappearance from the Starliner post "Full Circle". (Adric has actually stowed away on the TARDIS.) In a piece written by Andrew Smith (the writer of "Full Circle") for the show's 50th anniversary, Decider Login talks about how, when no trace of Adric was found, the decision was taken to list the boy among the fatalities of the Marshmen's attack. Of course, Adric had already been Killed Off for Real several years before this piece was written.
  • Haven: In the season 3 finale, The Barn vanishes while Duke Crocker is in it. In the season 4 premiere, he reappears, but finds six months have passed and everyone thought he was dead. It causes a few problems, like him getting arrested and accused of being an impostor.
  • One episode of Law & Order involves a convoluted case where this comes into play. Detectives discover that a victim found in Central Park was living under an assumed name; under her real name, she was declared legally dead ten years earlier, and her husband went to prison for supposedly killing her. Said husband had recently been released, and, furious with his wife for letting him go to prison for murder while she was still alive, he and his brother conspired to kill her for real. It takes the DA a while to figure out the legalities of the situation.
  • M*A*S*H: The season 4 episode "The Late Captain Pierce" involves Hawkeye being mistakenly declared dead due to a paperwork mix-up.
  • Revolution: Rachel Matheson. Episode 2 reveals she had been kept prisoner by Monroe. The fall finale reveals that even Miles, who personally processed her when she turned herself in to the Monroe Militia, assumed that she had since died.
  • An episode of Night Court dealt with a soldier who had been declared dead and came home to find out his wife had remarried to a total nerd.
  • On The Pretender, this is a big part of Mr. Lyle's backstory. He killed his best friend and chopped his head off, then left the body in the bed of his abusive father's pickup truck. Even though the authorities could not positively ID the body, it was assumed to be him. His father was convicted and sentenced to life in prison, while his mother went insane from the ordeal.
  • Rome: Lucius Vorenus's wife believes him dead after ten years campaigning with Caesar.
  • Smallville: Keeps Green Arrow's origin mostly intact, except instead of falling off a cruise ship, Ollie's yacht was attacked by a group of pirates and he escaped by activating a life raft before washing ashore on a nearby island.
  • The Adventures of Superman: Attempted in one episode of the old TV show. A wanted criminal seals himself in a huge lead-lined metal room for seven years so that he can be declared legally dead and emerge a free man. He has a clock inside that keeps time from a radio signal from a nearby military base. Superman gets the authorities to speed the clock up by a tiny bit, so when he finally emerges it turns out he's 10 minutes too early.Hollywood Law 
  • The Trouble With Larry: Short-lived 1993 sitcom wherein Larry (Bronson Pinchot post-Perfect Strangers) had been abducted and presumed eaten by apes 10 years previously; his wife has since remarried and had a son, then Larry shows up ready to retake his place as head of the family.
  • Babylon 5: Captain Sheridan was presumed to have died on Z'Ha'Dum at the end of the third season, a presumption reinforced somewhat by the fact that he most likely did do just that. He is brought back thanks to the efforts of a Sufficiently Advanced Alien, and returns to rally the League races against the Shadows and Vorlons. Bit of a downplayed example, as the fourth season reveals that nobody on Earth ever heard about his death anyways, thanks to a government-enforced communications blackout.
  • On Person of Interest a real estate developer went into business with some shady investors. When the market went sour, they decided to kill the man and his family and then force the man's brother-in-law as the executor of the estate to transfer all the properties to them. Their hitman makes it look like the man killed his wife and daughter while sailing on a yacht and then killed himself. The girl's body was not discovered but everyone assumed that it went overboard and sunk in the sea. Two years later all the legal wrangling is over, the girl is legally dead and the bad guys are about to get their money. Then it comes to light that the hitman Would Not Hurt A Child and the girl is still alive. Since this would completely derail their scheme, the bad guys hire a hitman who Would Hurt a Child and send him to kill the girl before the authorities find out about her being still alive.
  • Murdoch Mysteries: The titular scam in "The Murdoch Sting" turns on this point of law. A wealthy bank official goes missing and does turn up dead, but there's no evidence to charge the suspect Eva Pearce with his murder. Murdoch and company persuade the suspect that she's due to inherit half the banker's substantial estate, then close the investigation with the man still officially missing, forcing the banker's heirs to wait seven years to collect. The idea is to catch her in the place the body was found, since if she killed the guy and hid his body there, this demonstration of the guilty knowledge would clinch the case against her. Despite her best efforts, it works and Murdoch catches her in the act of searching the pond for the body.
  • Herman's Head. Herman finds himself interested in the daughter of his insane boss Mr Crawford. She points out that she's married but her husband mysteriously disappeared and is legally dead unless he turns up within the next few years. Crawford hefts his hunting shotgun meaningfully and tells her not to worry, as he won't be showing up.
  • On Silicon Valley, after Erlich goes to Tibet, Jian Yang manages to get him declared legally dead in order to steal his estate (which includes 10% of Pied Piper).
  • In Grace and Frankie Frankie discovers that she's legally dead in a type 2 situation.
  • Played with in The Dead Zone. Johnny Smith is in a traffic accident that leaves him in a coma, believed to be a persistent vegetative state from which he will never awaken. His late mother's husband, Reverend Purdy, is legally declared his guardian, with full control of the estate she left Johnny, and this continues for several episodes after Johnny wakes up as the legal system tries to sort things out. His fiancée has also since fallen in love with and married another man, who is legally the father of the son she and Johnny conceived just before the accident that put him in the coma. He wasn't legally dead, but came as close as possible in many ways!

    Tabletop Games 
  • Ars Magica: When a mage has a prolonged Twilight episode (i.e.: magically glitched out of reality) or disappearance, the Order of Hermes generally waits a few years before declaring them lost. It's an imperfect system — House Tytalus had a schism when a leader reappeared from not-so-Final Twilight years after being replaced, and some magi still get nervous about the thought that at least one Founder was last seen entering a faerie forest with an unusual timestream.
  • Red Markets: Unable to contain the Zombie Apocalypse, the government abandons everything west of the Mississippi River. Those citizens who couldn't cross the bridges before they were destroyed were declared dead. The PCs struggle to save enough Bounty because just crossing over the border (whose guards shoot on sight) is not enough: they need to purchase brand new identities for their dependents and themselves.
    • The government also seizes the property and assets of anyone that's dead and has no heirs, and any company that fell apart during the zombie apocalypse. In order to prove that someone is "dead", though, the government needs their information. Thus, Bounty is the proof that someone is dead: their legal documents, as scavenged by the PCs, whether that person is dead or not. Legally, everyone west of the Mississippi River is dead, according to the government, they just need proof of who it is so they can seize their assets.

  • Statutory duels in The Grand Duke. Both parties draw a card and the one who draws the lower number is considered legally dead, this was introduced by a previous Grand Duke to reduce the loss of life from people fighting actual duels.

    Video Games 
  • In the ending of Bugsnax, it turns out your boss had you declared legally dead about two hours after you left.
  • The basis of the first quest in Escape from Monkey Island, due to Guybrush and governor Elaine spending too long on their honeymoon (combined with their pirate constituency's short attention span).
    Elaine: I'm going down to city hall to see about getting declared un-dead.
    Guybrush: Won't that make you a flesh-eating zombie?
  • Final Fantasy:
    • Final Fantasy XII
      • Dalmascan Captain Basch is framed for regicide by the invading Archadian conspirators —including his own twin brother, who committed the murder— and the population of Dalmasca is assured that the traitor was captured and executed. Only the first part was true, however, and he lives to help the Princess reclaim her throne.
      • In fact, Basch's "legally dead" status is deliberately exploited by the party in order to draw Marquis Ondore's attention, at which point they send out Vaan to claim that "[He is] Captain Basch!" By the end of the game, since Basch is still legally declared dead by Dalmasca, he uses this chance to take up the guise and identity of Judge Magister Gabranth in his brother's name, in order to protect the young emperor Larsa (and, by extension, the fragile peace between Dalmasca, Rozarria, and Archades).
    • Lightning is believed dead in Final Fantasy XIII-2, after a Cosmic Retcon whisked her away to serve the Goddess Etro outside of regular time-space and making it seem like she died in the Final Battle of the previous game. Her sister Serah was the only person who perceived said retcon as it happened and is thus the only one who knows/believes that Lightning is still alive.
  • At the beginning of Mass Effect 2, Commander Shepard has the Normandy blown out from under them, suffers a suit puncture and asphyxiates, then partially burns up on reentry into a planet's atmosphere and crashes into its surface. After Cerberus revives them two years later, on their first trip to the Citadel they discover that the Systems Alliance and Citadel Council have, unsurprisingly, declared them KIA in the interim, and Shepard has to talk to a C-Sec officer to get their IDs reactivated. This also leads to some funny moments when the Citadel advertising can't quite figure out what to do with an undead Spectre. And the C-Sec Chief makes a snide remark that "spending a year dead is a popular tax dodge".
    Technician: Sorry about this, sir/ma'am. Our system seems to think that you're, ah, dead.
    Shepard: I was only mostly dead. Try finding that option on government paperwork.note 
  • In No Umbrellas Allowed, sculptor Dongjun Lee and painter Eunjong Lee recently became Fixies during the game's events and are presumed dead, so all their artworks are to be tagged as "Works by a Deceased Artist". This is because Fixer has fatal side effects due to it not being thoroughly tested, but AVAC denies that.
  • In Wing Commander: Prophecy, Commodore Blair is lost when the Nephilim wormhole gate he's seeking to shut down collapses, leaving his fate uncertain. In the sequel Secret Ops, background fiction for the game says that Blair was declared legally dead.

    Visual Novels 
  • Ace Attorney:
    • Zig-Zagged in the original Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney trilogy. The first game established that due to Marvin Grossberg's snooping and Redd White's blackmail, the trial of DL-6 was never resolved and Misty Fey had to go under hiding (at least until Phoenix solved the case). In the second game, Morgan Fey told Phoenix Wright that if the Master of the Kurain does not come back after 20 years, she will be declared legally dead. And because of this, this sets off the plots of trying to get rid of Maya Fey, the next-in-line since Mia Fey abdicated the position and her subsequent death in the 1st game. In the third game, Godot reveals that despite Misty's "disappearance", the police was able to track her because the Master of Kurain holds extensive influence with the government. The last case in the trilogy sets it up that this might get subverted in that because Elise Deauxnim is really Misty, Misty may be able to return to Kurain. Only because of Morgan's scheming that forced Godot to kill Dahlia Hawthorne that Misty summoned from killing Maya that this gets double subverted.
    • Subverted in Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney. It appears that Zak Gramarye merely disappeared to remove his partner from suspicion. The rights to the Gramarye magic act would automatically transfer to him in seven years according to this trope. The subversion comes when he turns out to be dead anyway; he's Shadi Enigmar, the murder victim in the first case.

    Web Animation 
  • Zero Punctuation's review for Peggle, regarding its addictiveness, Yahtzee claims that he started playing around noon and emerged sometime later to find that the authorities had declared him legally dead.

    Web Comics 
  • Tower of God: Through a rather convoluted plan of Yu Hansung's, Twenty-Fifth Bam has been declared as deceased after being supposedly killed by a sea-creature at the end of the first season. The truth of the matter is that he was deliberately pushed by Rachel and dropped down the drain, literally.
  • Girl Genius
    • While Death is Cheap isn't quite in effect, resurrection is possible. So the noble families have a rule in place that if you die, you're out of the line of succession, whether you get zapped back or not. Of course, every so often a blue-blood gets resurrected and hopes no one finds out, but the local Benevolent Dictator always does, and quietly blackmails them with it.
    • Speaking of which, said dictator is the result of all three sons of the Wulfenbach family dying in a lab accident, getting stitched back together, and reanimated, which means he's probably not even human in a legal sense, and definitely isn't allowed to rule. He also has the most guns, so he rules anyway.
    • The leader of an enemy army gets killed and then reanimated to be brought back to life by Klaus. For his safety, his name was released as one of the dead. He's initially annoyed—none of his Rich Bitch friends will be willing to communicate with him, his wife will be even worse, and his lands will go to his insufferable nephew—until he has an epiphany and realizes that he hated all of them anyway.
      Selnikov: Say—can I get a brass plate that says "Reanimated Abomination of Science" bolted to my forehead?
      Dr. Sun: Er, perhaps?

  • FanFiction.Net: Often a Subverted Trope on the Internet, where a writer who has returned from a long hiatus will remark that they're not dead, as evidenced by the update. This is only slightly justified, as most of these people post under a pseudonym and are unknown outside the Internet, so if Schedule Slip means they go a long time without posting anything, then for all their readers know, they could have died in the interim. Played straight in a couple of cases, though the only ones that have been verified were in those where a relative verified things, and most were in short order.

    Western Animation 
  • Family Guy:
    • Peter was declared legally dead when he and the guys were lost at sea, and Lois married Brian in order to have a breadwinner in the house.
    • In another episode, Peter declared himself dead to get out of paying a hospital bill. The Grim Reaper tried to take him away.
  • South Park: An Unfrozen man from 3 years in the past discovered his wife had remarried and had two sons... Except the sons were too old to have been the children of her new husband. (8 and 13 to be exact.)
  • Futurama:
    • In "The Route of All Evil", Professor Farnsworth gets subject to a hostile takeover of Planet Express by his own clone/"son" Cubert, which was enabled by a discovery that Farnsworth was declared legally dead three years prior. Cubert believes it was done as a tax dodge, but Farnsworth himself denies it; "You take one nap in a ditch in the park, and they start declaring you this and that!"
    • In "Rebirth," while everyone else is back to normal after being reborn, Leela ends up in a deep, irreversible coma. After all attempts to wake her up fail, she is declared legally dead. She does eventually wake up at her own funeral service due to an accident on Bender's part.
  • Invincible: In the aftermath of the first season after Omni-Man leaves Earth, Cecil informs Debbie that to ensure she and Mark wouldn't be harassed following the destruction of Chicago, Nolan officially died when he was killed by a nearby gas-leak explosion in order to keep his secret identity under wraps.
  • Wild West Cow Boys Of Moo Mesa: Seven years after Colonel Cudster put his daughter in charge of his gold mine and left Cowtown to look for more gold, Mayor Bulloney tried to invoke an old law to get the Colonel declared dead and seize the mine. Fortunately, Cudster sends a letter that arrives just in time (the day after it was postmarked, confirming he's alive) to keep Bulloney's plan from succeeding.
  • Macbeth in the backstory of Gargoyles. One of Demona's plots against him in the present also invokes this trope.
  • In The Simpsons episode "Bart vs. Thanksgiving," Abe reveals that the retirement home he lives at will declare him legally dead and collect his insurance if he's not back by 9 P.M.
    • In "Mother Simpson," Homer faked his death to avoid garbage cleanup. This results in the town cutting off the power since the house is under his name and forced to head to the courthouse to correct this.

    Real Life 
  • Bribing a corrupt official to declare someone legally dead in order to steal their property is a more common practice than India wants to admit. One victim, Lal Bihari, went on to found The Uttar Pradesh Association of Dead People, which represents the masses of Indian people who have been victims of this trope in Real Life — this earned him an Ig Nobel Prize.
  • Occasionally in the US, people can be accidentally declared dead usually due to a Social Security mix-up. Since SS numbers are used by the government and other groups (like insurance, banks, credit cards) to identify a person, being declared dead is a major hassle to undo.
  • John Darwin went out in a canoe and never returned. His wife had him declared legally dead to claim his life insurance. Until he turned up again, and the police found evidence he'd had a passport in a fake name. Also a subversion of Easy Amnesia, which he claimed to have when he first reappeared.
  • Truth in Television: Bodies that were never found after earthquakes, building collapses, fires, wars, boat sinkings, and so on are often declared dead fairly soon after their disappearance due to "imminent peril" clauses in laws that deal with Death In Absentia.
  • "Death In Absentia", "Declared Dead", "Declared Deceased", "Presumed Deceased" and "Legally Dead" are all legal terms for someone who has not been seen or heard from for some time. It allows for wills to be read, spouses to be declared widowed, and life to go on. For someone to be declared this (at least in the US and Canada) is no small matter: those who seek to declare someone dead have to make a concerted effort to find the person, there has to be no evidence that the person being declared dead is still alive, and usually the last known contact has to be at least seven years prior. Sometimes the waiting period is waived (see above in Type 5), but just as often the search goes on longer (for example, friends and family of Richey James Edwards searched for nearly twice as long as required).
    • A famous example that actually affected British law is the case of John Bingham, 7th Earl of Lucan. Lord Lucan was a famous playboy and Professional Gambler in the 1960s who disappeared in 1974 after he apparently killed his children's nanny during a botched an attempt to murder his wife (from whom he was legally separated). He was not declared legally dead until 2016. Part of this was family foot-dragging (delaying the declaration of death meant the family wouldn't have to pay death duties and so could afford to see to the education of Lord Lucan's three small children), but part was the byzantine requirements to get a death declaration in absentia under English law, which were reformed in part because of the attention the Lord Lucan case got.
  • Ozzy Osbourne has been declared legally dead twice from a single quad bike accident.
  • Jimmy Hoffa, an American union leader who led the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) from 1957 to 1971. After being imprisoned for jury tampering, bribery, among other federal crimes, he later resigned as president of the union after a deal with President Nixon. He later disappeared in July 30, 1975, becoming a well known case of Stock Unsolved Mystery in America. It is believed that he was killed by the mob to silence Hoffa, but his fate is still unknown, as his body has never been recovered and there's been no contact with him since his disappearance. He was finally declared legally dead in 1982.
  • Manic Street Preachers guitarist and lyricist Richey Edwards was declared legally dead in 2008, after having disappeared in 1995.
  • There's often a statute of limitations on having a death ruling overturned. Donald Eugene Miller Jr was declared legally dead in 1994, 8 years after he disappeared. When he turned up in 2013 and tried to have the ruling overturned, he found out that he couldn't because the time frame had passed. His mistake was trying to have the ruling overturned (so it never happened) instead of simply having himself declared alive again. But as of 2014 he didn't have the money to handle the legal work of having himself declared alive. Eventually Ohio ruled that he was dead, so the judge suggested that he ask for a new social security number which was successful.
    • Since he had reappeared the Social Security Administration attempted to get his daughters to repay the death benefits that they received as teenagers (a total of $47K after interest) but they later dropped the claim.
  • Andrew Fluegelman, developer of an early IBM PC communication program PC-Talk, disappeared in 1985. His body was never found, but his car was found near the Golden Gate Bridge, a notorious suicide spot, with friends claiming they found a suicide note in his car. His family held a memorial anyway and he is presumed dead.
  • Amelia Earhart was one of the most famous disappeared people in history and she was last confirmed alive on July 2, 1937. On January 5, 1939, she was declared legally dead.
  • On May 25, 1979, 6 year old Etan Patz vanished somewhere within the 2 blocks between his apartment and his bus stop. His parents had him declared legally dead in June 2001 in order to file a wrongful death lawsuit again the man they believed murdered him. note