Legal Matters
Death and the Law
Because medical science has the capability to keep a person’s heartbeat
and respiration functioning artificially with the use of life support mechanisms,
various legal questions have arisen as to what constitutes death.

Consequently many states have enacted laws defining death; most such laws
define it in terms of only one of the five physical functions mentioned earlier in
this article; absence of brain activity. In addition, several states have enacted so-
called “right to die” or “death with dignity” laws. Under these laws a person can
fill out and sign a legally binding living will directing physicians not to prolong his
life artificially if he develops an incurable disease or sustains an injury that is
diagnosed as terminal. Such directives not only ensure that a person’s life will not
be prolonged; they also protect doctors and hospitals against any liability for
withholding life sustaining procedures.

Proof of death is often required in connection with some legal incident that
accompanies or depends upon fact of death. For example, money or property
cannot be passed on to an heir until the original owner has been proven dead.
Proof of death usually takes the form of a death certificate that identifies the dead
person, gives date and medical cause of death. When a person disappears, and
there is no proof of death, the law provides that they can be presumed dead after
a certain period, usually seven years. When there is reasonable grounds for
believing that death did occur, the law may permit an earlier presumption of death.

The money and property that belonged to a deceased person make up his estate.
The estate is handled by an executor, appointed  by the deceased person’s will, or
if there is no will, by an administrator, appointed by the court. His duty is to
collect the assets, pay debts and taxes, and distribute the remainder in accordance
with the will or with applicable laws.

Death ends personal contracts made by the deceased, such as contracts for
marriage, and for personal services. But most other contracts are not ended by
death. The executor or administrator may be required to fulfill many obligations of
contracts, and he may demand that contracts be fulfilled for the advantage of the
estate. When the decease leaves a valid will, his property remaining after payment
of debts and inheritance taxes are distributed according to the law of the state
where the deceased lived, or , in case of land, the laws where the land lies.
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The Funeral Source is in no way offering legal advice, and is not legally
responsible if any information is not legal in your area. We are purely
providing information. When it comes to legal matters please contact
an attorney or your local government for proper and current legal
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This main topic focuses on all subjects,
but not limited to, topics dealing with
legal matters that come about as a result
of a death. It also covers, how to
prepare for some of these eventualities,
as well as information about probate,
preparation, wills and insurance. It also
includes sections about consumer
advocate groups, burial societies,
financial planning and more.
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Final Words
The end of life. Death is a characteristic
of all living things, and all organisms
eventually die. This article is concerned
with the medical and legal aspects of
death in man.
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Oxygen normally cannot be supplied to the brain if the heart and lungs are not
functioning. After a 5-10 minute absence of oxygen the brain becomes damaged
beyond repair, causing death of the body as a whole. Traditionally and in most
cases, therefore, a person is considered dead when breathing and heartbeat have
ceased and cannot be revived.

However, because of the development of machines that can circulate oxygenated
blood throughout the body even though the heart and lungs cannot function by
themselves, many physicians and medical organizations suggest that at least five
physical functions must have ceased before death can be established. The five are:
heartbeat, pulse, reflexes, breathing, and brain activity. The absence of any brain
activity, as measured by an E.K.G. (electroencephalograph), and by tests of
oxygen consumption by the brain is considered to be especially important.

The branch of medicine called
pathology is devoted in part to the study of causes
of death and of what may be done to prevent disease and prolong life. Such
studies are carried out most frequently by means of
autopsy, or post mortem
examination, of the recently dead. Studies of statistics compiled from large number
of such examinations can lead to new ideas for diagnosis and treatment of disease.
For example, the observation that part of the pancreas had degenerated in many
victims of diabetes led to the discovery of insulin.

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