I recently read this article from the CBC about a man in Ohio who has been trying to prove for several years that he is not, in fact, dead.
In 1986, Donald Miller went missing. For eight years, his family heard nothing from him. At the end of eight years, in accordance with Ohio law, his wife applied for a formal ruling declaring Miller dead, and he was in fact declared dead in 1994. Some social security and other benefits were paid to his wife and children, and they moved on.
In 2005, Miller resurfaced, returning to Ohio to live with his parents, who had also not heard from him in almost 20 years and so could not tell him about being declared dead. In Ohio, there is a three-year statute of limitations on reversing a declaration of death; since Miller had not applied by 1997 to reverse the ruling, it could not be done. He has been to court, and recently another judge confirmed that he could not bring Miller back to life, legally speaking.
In Ontario, if you have been missing for seven years, your next of kin (or a list of other interested persons) can have you declared dead under the Declarations of Death Act. If an order is made declaring someone dead and that person eventually resurfaces, the court can also make an order reversing the declaration; in Ontario, there is no time limit on contesting a declaration of death. There are also provisions for speeding up the declaration if the person disappeared in what is called a “circumstance of peril”, i.e. participating in a dangerous activity.
Sometimes people go missing and are never found. A formal declaration of death can allow life insurance to be paid out to assist those left behind, and allow them to move on. While situations like Donald Miller’s seem a bit absurd, a declaration of death can be a very important order.