Legality of a Person’s Will in regard to his Dead Body

Deceased person has no much rights

The personality of a human being commences its existence at his birth. It ceases to exists at his death.

Dead men are no longer persons in the eye of the law. They are devoid of much rights and no sort of liabilities. They no longer remain as the owners of their property even till their successors enter upon to take care of their inheritance.

They have inheritable and uninheritable rights. Personal rights are uninheritable and they are wholly extinguished by his death. Proprietary rights on the other hand are usually inheritable. The successors step in as owners of his property at the moment he dies.

But there are exceptions also. A lease may be for the life of the lessee. In joint ownership the right of the person who dies first is wholly destroyed and the survivor acquires an exclusive title.

Three things the law takes into account

Though a man’s rights and interest perish with him at his death, there are three things that the law takes into account after his death based on his desires. They are his dead body, his reputation and his estate.

In dead body, the deceased has no right

His dead body is neither the property of him nor anyone else. It cannot be disposed on by his Will, or any other legal instrument. The testamentary direction of a person in the form of a Will in regard to the disposal of his body is without any binding force.

The only thing that he can do is protect it from indignity of anatomical uses. He cannot devote any property for permanent maintenance of his tom. Property is for the use of the living but not of the dead ones.

However, the criminal law secures a decent burial to his dead body and protects it from any sort of insult or indignity from anyone.

The dead person’s reputation is protected

The reputation of the dead gets some sort of protection – a libel upon the dead man will be punished.

But this protection the dead person gets only when the defamation is an attack on the interest of living persons.

The right so attached, defended or protected is, in reality, not that of the dead person, but that of his living decedents.

In succession, the person’s desires survive

It is in the testamentary succession alone where the desires of a dead man are allowed to regulate the actions of the living. A person’s desires survive even after his death if he makes a Will when he is alive.

Even after many years a deceased person’s desires, embodied in his Will, will regulate the disposition and enjoyment of his property in the manner he wanted to have.

In inheritance of property, the inheritable rights in the property, which a dead man thus leaves behind him, vests in his representatives. The inheritance pass on to someone whom the dead person or on his behalf has appointed to represent him as his nominee or administrator or legal heirs, at the moment t he is dead.

The representative bears all his inheritable rights and the associated liabilities for two classes of people – the creditors and the beneficiaries. The beneficiaries are two classes of people – those nominated by the last Will and those appointed by the succession law when there is no nomination. His liabilities will be limited to the assets that his successors have received from the dead.

How can one donate his body for research?

In order to donate one’s body for studies or research, the person needs to get in touch with Medical Colleges in order to register his wish at the medical college in your city. The process usually involves signing a form with two witness signatures and submitting it to the Medical College.

Upon death, the relatives have to inform the Medical College. Therefore, it is important that after his death, his relatives should be ready and willing to donate the dead body.

IPC Sections relating to dead body

Under Section 297 of the indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC), trespassing a burial place, place of worship, or place of sepulchre or a depository of mortal remains of the dead, in a way causing any indignity to human corpse or causing disturbance in the performance of funeral ceremonies, with an intention to wound the feelings of any person, is a cognizable offence, punishable with one year imprisonment along with fine, or both. The Section intendents to prohibits irreverence to dead bodies. Trespassing refers to entering into a place with intention to intimidate, insult or annoy any person.

The Section 404 of the IPC speaks of dishonest misappropriation of a dead man’s property as a non-cognizable offence. The Section intends to protect the dead man’s property till it is taken care by his legal heirs. Under this Section, a person can be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to 3 years and also shall liable to fine. If the offender happens to be a clerk or a servant of the deceased person, the imprisonment may extend up to 7 years.

The Section 499 of the IPC mentions that libel or slander against a deceased person amounts to the offence of defamation where the imputation would have harmed his reputation if he were alive, and the imputation would be hurtful to the feelings of his family or other near relatives (Mrs Pat Sharpe v Dwijendra Nath Bose).

The Section 503 of the IPC includes threatening a person intending to injure the reputation of a dead person in which he is interested in, as a non-cognisable offence of Criminal Intimidation. Any person who commits the offence under the Section shall be punishable with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to 2 years, or with fine or with both.

Source document

  1. Sarkar, A K: Summary or Salmond’s Jurisprudence. Gurgaon, Lexis Nexis, 2010.
  2. Kirsten Rabe Smolensky : Rights of the dea