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What is a Dead Man's Statute?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 09 November 2016
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A dead man's statute is a law that prevents people with an interest in a civil case from testifying about oral statements made by the deceased. In criminal cases, such statutes do not apply. Likewise, someone without an interest in a case can testify about things a deceased person may have said. The purpose of a dead man's statute is to prevent a situation in which an interested party makes claims to bolster his or her case and these claims cannot be backed up.

Not every region has a dead man's statute. In those that do, the type of testimony that is inadmissible under the statute may vary. Some limit it to oral statements such as promises made on the deathbed. Others also do not allow testimony about unwitnessed transactions and any other events for which no verifying witness is available. A disinterested witness, on the other hand, can attribute statements and other actions to the deceased.

Some areas allow for a waiver of the dead man's statute. If a representative of the deceased does not object, someone may be allowed to testify about something a deceased individual said. It is important to know which version of the statute is active in an area where a case concerning a deceased person is going to be tried, in order to avoid running afoul of civil procedure. A lawyer should be able to provide advice and guidance for people who need to know what kind of evidence and testimony is admissible.

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A common situation in which a dead man's statute comes up is in a contest over a will or estate. People with an interest could come forward claiming that they knew the intents of the deceased in order to bolster their own cases, but there would be no way to know if their claims are true. The dead man's statute limits testimony from parties with no stake in the matter, ensuring that the wishes of the deceased are as fairly and accurately represented as possible.

Cases involving words or actions from deceased parties can be complicated to litigate. The intents of the dead person should not be misrepresented in court, but sometimes it can be challenging to determine what a deceased person would have wanted or thought about a matter. Especially when situations involve sensitive or valuable inheritances, feelings can run high. The dead man's statute prevents situations in which people may perjure the dead by proxy, as well as themselves, in order to press their cases.

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