For What It’s Worth

Dead, but alive

Strange as it may be, an Ohio resident is both dead and alive. Dead legally. Alive in reality.

The man is legally dead because a court ruling in 1994 declared him to be legally dead eight years after he disappeared from his rental home. He had been missing for more than seven years and presumed dead since he couldn’t be located. However, he reappeared alive in Ohio, but in a court ruling last week a judge ruled that, by law, he could not overrule the previous court decision. Thus, the man remains legally dead in the eyes of the law.

A CNN report quotes the judge as saying, “In over 40 years, I’ve never come across a case like this. In the end though, because of the statute, it was a pretty open-and-shut case.”

The man, an admitted recovering alcoholic, testified that he disappeared in 1986 in the throes of his addiction. Having lost his job, he abandoned his rental home and left behind his wife and two children. Eight years later when he was declared legally dead he owed $25,000 in unpaid child support.

He told the court his situation “went further than I ever expected it to. I just kind of took off, ended up in different places.”

He said he was not aware of his legal death until his parents told him about it when he returned to Ohio in 2005. As a result of being legally dead, he had lost his Social Security number and his driver’s license. So, he filed a complaint to overturn his death ruling, leading to the judge’s determination last week that legally he could not overturn the prior court decision.

In a sense, the case may lie in state for a time.

Technically, the man can petition to have his SS number reinstated in federal court, but his attorney said the man does not have the financial resources to pursue a second hearing. He has 30 days to appeal.

His ex-wife, who reportedly declined to testify at last week’s hearing, said she opposed overturning the death ruling because she would then have to pay back the federal government for the benefits she received and she does not have the financial means to do so.

She had asked for the initial death ruling so that Social Security benefits could be paid to their two children. Following the 1994 ruling, she began receiving those benefits.

While it is most unlikely that anyone reading this has been legally declared dead but is, in reality, alive, I think it likely that anyone of us could, at some time, find ourselves in this situation spiritually.

For any number of reasons, we can go missing spiritually. A broken relationship. An unwillingness to forgive. A financial crunch. A life crisis we don’t understand. Our faith takes a hit, and we abandon its protection in our life. Sometimes, this may go on for years and we are spiritually dead, though physically alive.

In Ohio, and apparently in other states as well, a judge cannot simply declare a person no longer legally dead even though that person is standing in front of him very much alive. In God, though, we can reclaim our spiritual life. No attorney fees are required. No higher court ruling is needed. Reappear and God will grant us renewed life, not declare that we must remain spiritually dead.

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2 Responses to For What It’s Worth

  1. June Howard says:

    Enjoy all of your “For What It’s Worth” but this one is particularly good. Thanks and keep up the good work.

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