It turns out declaring someone legally dead is relatively simple, provided you have some HTML skills. Security researcher Chris Rock recently detailed how to do this during his presentation at DEF CON 23. While declaring yourself dead has many serious implications, it could also clear your out of control credit card bills.
Woman at graveyard picture from Shutterstock
Rock has been looking into the processes to declare a person dead since Auburn Hospital in Victoria had a major cock-up and wrote 200 patients off as deceased.
He found that declaring someone legally dead is quite a straight forward process in Australia. Rock warned that declaring somebody legally dead could have huge ramifications for the person. For one, if the individual wants to apply for a phone plan or a rental home, it wouldn't be possible. Want to travel overseas? You can forget it since your passport would be useless. Securing a driver's licence is also out of the question.
Basically, living life would be made extremely inconvenient as a walking dead (literally).
"It is worse than being a victim of identity theft," Rock told Lifehacker Australia over the weekend. "At least with identity theft, there are ways to get your identify back. But if you've been declared dead for a long time, there is a chance you'll never be able to get out of that situation."
He pointed to the case of Donald E. Miller Jr. in the US who was declared legally deceased in 1994 only to re-emerge decades later wanting to apply for a driver's licence and reactivate his Social Security number. A judge ruled that it was not possible because he had been declared dead for so long.
If you really want to screw with someone's life, for whatever reason, declaring them dead will cause them a lot of grief. That's some pretty dark stuff. But for people saddled with four overdue credit cards with a collective debt the size of Tasmania and can live with the consequences of being a walking dead, they may consider faking their own death.
We're not trying to encourage people to go out there and do this. What we want to do is find out whether this is actually possible and Rock has presented a plausible method:
- Doctor fills out a death certification form, which can be done online in Australian states. This requires doctors to fill in details of their practice and cause of death.
You may think that's already a major roadblock to faking your own death because how will you have a doctor's information, but that information can be found through the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency portal. It is accessible by the public because it's used to check if your doctor is legit.
A screenshot of the Victorian Medical Certificate for Cause of Death form from Rock's presentation at DEF CON 23.
As for the cause of death, try not to make up something spectacular like "decapitation by helicopter" or it will raise suspicion and thus further scrutiny by government authorities. Best to keep it under the radar. If you need a bit of inspiration, Rock recommended the Physicians' Handbook on Medical Certification of Death.
- Once that form is filled out, you can then fill it out, you can then hand it over to a funeral director so he can complete the Death Registration Statement.
As it turns out, you don't need to hire a real funeral director; you can actually become one. Rock has proved that it is easy enough to become registered funeral director. This is where HTML skills will come in handy. You will need to make a convincing website for a funeral home and HTML along with CSS is just dandy for making a static website. Rock did just that.
"You can actually register to be a funeral director online. You don't need to show any real credentials. I ended up just making a website for a fake funeral home. I got notification not long after applying to let me know I was a registered funeral director now," he said.
Then all that is left to be done is to fill out the Dead Registration Statement, which Rock assured us was foolproof, and click submit to the Death, Births and Marriages department of the state you're registering the death through.
As for the money side of things, we sought advice from Slater + Gordon national practice group leader for estate planning and wealth management, Rod Cunich, on what happens to a debt after someone is deceased. To put it simply, when a person dies, any property or money that is left behind, known as their estate, will be divided up between beneficiaries. If there is an outstanding debt, the estate is sold to cover the debts. Just ensure the debt wasn't accumulated in a joint account with your partner otherwise the debt collectors can go after your spouse.
"If there is not enough money from the estate to pay for the debt, it is a bad debt and those that are owed money can never recover it," Cunich said. "The estate is effectively bankrupt."
There are assets that will be protected regardless of the unpaid debt that will be passed on to the appropriate beneficiaries including superannuation entitlements, life insurance payouts and any money that came through compensation claims, according to Cunich.
"Family members are usually protected from the debt left behind," he said. "The debt won't get passed on to the next generation and it will die with the estate although it might eat into any inheritance that would have been left over."
The only caveat to all this is when a house with a mortgage is passed on, the mortgage stays intact and it is up to the person who takes over the home to pay it off, Cunich said.
It's fascinating that the process of faking your own death is relatively straightforward but it's also a pretty drastic move. What should be taken away from this is the lack of adequate oversight from government authorities over securing a death certificate.
While it's great to see many government organisations embracing technology by providing e-services to users, they should also consider all the complications that may arise from that.