My daughter tells me the television show Deadliest Catch has advised America that no death certificate is issued if you die at sea. She wanted to know if this is right. The statement is too simple, but I suppose it was made to net in the viewer to the Alaskan fishing show hook, line and sinker. As all or most of those boats homeport from here in Seattle, I took the bait.
Without a death certificate how does the fisherman’s widow collect the life insurance, probate the estate, or remarry? Is she really held up by a faceless bureaucrat’s indecision or some policy that seems to hold the lives of everyone in suspense waiting for a body to be washed up on some shore? What if the man dies like Captain Quint in Jaws? Ick. Certainly Roy Scheider could later testify as to the circumstances of Quint’s passing, and get some proof of death from some court. But unfortunately Roy Scheider has a death certificate himself, so we have a problem.
Take heart. MarkPattersonLaw: The Secret Knowledege of Lawyers is prepared to give an answer for the fishermans family pacing at the terminal here in Ballard. They can:
A) Wait seven years for the presumption of death to arise, then make the claim, shifting to all persons who wish to say the fisherman is still alive a burden to prove this is true. This would be hard for say, the life insurance company, to do in a world where every credit card transaction is forever remembered by some machine somewhere, not to mention cell phones, on line accounts, and the like. In the modern world then there would tend to be evidence of the “tidings of existence” the law requires the insurance company to show to keep from paying the money. Instead there would be an abrupt end, indicating death. Note our widow will be in court, hence hiring a lawyer after seven long years.
Or she could:
B) Hire a lawyer earlier to seek a determination the fisherman is dead based on evidence we have now. Good luck. Before the seven years is up the presumption is the man is still alive. The life insurance company tries hard to hang on to that presumption notwithstanding some pretty compelling circumstances. Here are some examples:
- Where a man’s wife has just given birth to a fourth child, he was hopelessly in debt, had spoken of suicide the day before departing on a sea voyage and his bag is found next to a railing of the vessel the insurance company not only went to trial, but also appealed. The company ended up paying.
- Another man fell into the Columbia river in a place of swift currents and had reportedly never learned to swim. Another trial, another appeal. Company paid.
- Still another reports the insured was “last seen entering the surf”. Another loss for the insurance industry.
Note these all involve water and therefore are deaths at sea. They also involve a big fight over a long period of time. And they both involve, drum roll please, hiring a lawyer.
In the end there is no death certificate unless the Court orders it but there is a record of death. So, Deadliest Catch, your tag line wasnt really right, but close enough for television.
Perhaps the last option is the fastest.
C) Upload the Deadliest Catch segment where the fisherman was lost to U-Tube, then go on local or national news media complaining about delay. The widow may get her money, her probate property, and be able to start life again much sooner. This option will not necessarily lead to a death certificate.
Ok that’s enough. I gotta go.