One of the most absurd events in the history of the papacy of the Catholic Church is the Cadaver Synod or Cadaver Trial. Pope Formosus died in the year 896, at a time when intrigue and politics plagued the papacy and the Church. The successor of Formosus, Pope Stephen VI held the infamous ecclesiastical trial of the former to answer for many crimes including perjury, and violation of church canons. The corpse of Formosus was exhumed and dressed with full papal regalia and seated on a throne. The poor corpse was defended by a mere deacon who practically interposed no defense at all. Formosus was ultimately found guilty of all the charges, deprived of his title as pope, fingers cut, and buried naked in a commoner’s grave. This of course, is not possible under our present legal system. The dead cannot be put to trial for the very simple reason that the dead can no longer deny or admit the accusations against it.
Death Stops the Law
Criminal liability is extinguished by the death of the accused for it will be absurd to prosecute a corpse who can no longer defend himself. Civil liability on the other hand might still be claimed by the victim against the estate of the deceased. This extinguishment of criminal liability might be seen as ultimate evasion of the power of the law, but of course the criminal can no longer celebrate or enjoy it. The Family Code states that marriage is extinguished by the death of one of the parties, for obvious reasons. We have heard of that famous wedding between a living groom and his deceased bride. The union is void. Although if we check the requirements of a valid marriage under the Family Code, it does not require that the parties should be alive! I am just practicing my sense humor of course. In our Family Code, what is provided is the provision on marriage in articulo mortis. When a person is close to death, a pilot, ship captain, or a military commander may officiate the marriage. The marriage will still be considered valid even when the party who was close to death eventually survived.
Effect of Death
Upon the death of a person, all his real and personal properties will constitute his estate. This estate is considered a person and can actually sue and be sued through an administrator. At the time of the person’s death, his estate passes to his heirs subject to the claims of third persons or government such as taxes against the same. Although death extinguishes criminal liability, civil liability may still be claimed against the estate but ends there. The civil liability cannot extend beyond the value of the estate. Meaning, a debt cannot be inherited. If the estate is insufficient to answer for the indebtedness of the deceased, the creditor’s claim cannot go further and the heirs cannot be held liable. For the transfer of the properties under the name of the heirs, however certain procedures will have to be undertaken by the heirs. Usually through an extrajudicial settlement which is executed by the heirs themselves with respect to the distribution of the properties. Affidavit of self adjudication is required if there is only one heir. In case the deceased executed a will, the heirs have to go to court to have the will allowed or if there are claims against the estate.