Can authorities just declare everyone dead

iVillage Member
Registered: 01-16-2013
Can authorities just declare everyone dead
Tue, 03-25-2014 - 1:40pm

I have been so interested in the story of Malaysian Flight 370 and I just wonder how authorities can just declare no survivors with no solid evidence. What happens with death certificates, life insurance policies, wills and custody cases,marriages, etc? Is their word good enough to satisfy legal matters? What if somehow someone did live and shows up years from now? How do they reverse their death certificates?

iVillage Member
Registered: 06-25-2008
Wed, 03-26-2014 - 9:32am

I wondered about this too. They keep saying they are finding debri that they think is from flight 370 but so far nothing positive has turned up. With this being a foreign country and all I don't know how all that works. Is a declaration of death from Malaysia like this good enough to satisfy an American court? I hope someone has the answer for us.


iVillage Member
Registered: 04-16-2008
Wed, 03-26-2014 - 10:07am

As far as life insurance policies, some companies have already started to pay out.  (Note: While the disaparity between American lives and Chinese lives appears to be unfair, $5000 is a lot more than what the Chinese would receive if they die in a Chinese carrier).  See this:

With regard to death certificate for US citizens, the familly would need to sort it out with the US embassy in Malaysia/China.  The consular staff will help determine if the missing person is considered dead or not based on a variety of guidelines.

iVillage Member
Registered: 04-16-2009
Sat, 03-29-2014 - 2:02pm

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A person can be declared "presumed dead" if they have not been heard of from a certain span of time (7 years in the US) or that the circumstances of their "presumed" death are such that it is clear that the person has died (i.e. in a plane crash) even if a body has not been found.

In the plane accident, the evidence is clear. The plane was over the Indian Ocean (tracked by the British Immarsat satellite), it had only so much fuel on board and a crash in the Indian ocean is not survivable. No amount of CNN "talking heads" can change that. And you can be sure that the Malaysian government did not declare the plane and all aboard lost without careful consideration and only after discussion with all the stake holders. Declaring all lost is not the same as issuing death certificates. I would guess that Australia, since any debris would be brought to Australia, would issue the death certificates. The crash occurred in international waters and the rule is that the country where bodies are recovered would issue the certificate. It gets complicated since there is no bodies.

Their declaration opens the door for passenger flight insurance to start to be paid out and for families of the passengers to start to sue the airlines. By the way, only three passengers can sue the airline in US courts. All others have to sue in either Chinese or Malaysian courts.

The US courts are bound by international law to recognize Malaysian-government issued documents since the US recognized the government of Malaysian as a legitimate government. There is no fraud involved here.

Insurance companies are a different story and these kind of cases take months and years to settle.