Death in United Kingdom

Definition of Death

The permanent cessation of the vital functions in the bodies of animals and plants, the end of life or act of dying. The word is the English representative of the substantive common to Teutonic languages, as “dead” is of the adjective, and “die” of the verb; the ultimate origin is the pre-Teutonic verbal stem dau-; cf. Ger Tod, Dutch dood, Swed. and Dan. död. See registration of death.

Presumption of Death

The fact of death may, in English law, be proved not only by direct but by presumptive evidence. When a person disappears, so that no direct proof of his whereabouts or death is obtainable, death may be presumed at the expiration of seven years from the period when the person was last heard of. It is always, however, a matter of fact for the jury, and the onus of proving the death lies on the party who asserts it. In Scotland, by the Presumption of Life (Scotland) Act 1891, the presumption is statutory. In those cases where people disappear under circumstances which create a strong probability of death, the court may, for the purpose of probate or administration, presume the death before the lapse of seven years.

The question of survivorship, where two or more persons are shown to have perished by the same catastrophe, as in cases of shipwreck, has been much discussed. It was at one time thought that there might be a presumption of survivorship in favour of the younger as against the older, of the male as against the female, &c. But it is now clear that there is no such presumption (In re Alston, 1892, P. 142). This is also the rule in most states of the American Union. The doctrine of survivorship originated in the Roman Law, which had recourse to certain artificial presumptions, where the particular circumstances connected with deaths were unknown. Some of the systems founded on the civil law, as the French code, have adopted certain rules of survivorship.

Civil Death

It is an expression used, in law, in contradistinction to natural death. Formerly, a man was said to be dead in law:

  • when he entered a monastery and became professed in religion;
  • when he abjured the realm;
  • when he was attainted of treason or felony.

Since the suppression of the monasteries there has been no legal establishment for professed persons in England, and the first distinction has therefore disappeared, though for long after the original reason had ceased to make it necessary grants of life estates were usually made for the terms of a man’s natural life. The act abolishing sanctuaries (1623) did away with civil death by abjuration; and the Forfeiture Act 1870, that on attainder for treason or felony.

For the tax levied on the estate of deceased persons, and sometimes called “death duty,” see Succession Duty. (1)


Notes and References

  1. Encyclopedia Britannica (1911)

See Also

Further Reading

Concept of Dead Man’s Part, Death’s Part

Traditional meaning of dead man’s part, death’s part [1] in scots law: That part of the personal effects of a decedent which by the custom of London and York went to the administrator. In Scotch law, Dead’s part meant such of his personalty as remained beyond the shares of the widow and children, which the decedent could dispose of by will. Dead pledge: a mortgage. [rtbs name=”scottish-law”]


Notes and References

  1. Based on A concise law dictionary of words, phrases and maxims, “Dead Man’s Part, Death’s Part”, Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1911, United States. This term and/or definition may be absolete. It is also called the Stimson’s Law dictionary, based on a glossary of terms, included Dead Man’s Part, Death’s Part.

See Also



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