Death Law and Legal Definition

Death is defined as the ending of life or the total and permanent cessation of all vital functions of the body including the heartbeat, brain activity (including the brain stem), and breathing. Death can come in many forms. It can be expected, like the death occurring after diagnosis of terminal illness or unexpected like an accident. Death is also referred to as demise or decease.

The law recognizes different forms of death, not all of them meaning the end of physical life. For example civil death, legal death etc. Civil death is used in some states to describe the circumstance of an individual who has been convicted of a serious crime or sentenced to life imprisonment. Such an individual forfeits his or her civil rights, including the ability to marry, the capacity to own property, and the right to contract. Legal death on the other hand is a presumption by law that a person has died. Such a presumption arises by prolonged absence, of a person for a prescribed number of years, during which no one has seen or heard from the person and there is no known reason for the person's disappearance that would be incompatible with a finding that the individual is dead.

The laws of each state require that the manner in which an individual has died be determined and recorded on a death certificate.