In our world, but in the future, humans have just discovered a technology that will resurrect any person for which a sample of DNA can be obtained. Now, for the first time, some people have been resurrected, including some "ancient" (a.k.a. present-day) people.

A recently resurrected person finds that their wealth and estate have been bequeathed to their decedents, and thus they are alive but penniless.

They sue for the return of their property, since the condition (death) upon which it was given no longer applies. The defendants argue that the event (death) which allowed the transfer of property was fulfilled, and later changes in the bequeathor's status are irrelevant.

Assuming that laws have somehow not changed significantly, which side has a more compelling case? You can assume the case takes place in any country you choose.

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    $\begingroup$ As in Chasly's answer: your assumption that the new person can be legally ruled the same legal entity as the "donor" is tenuous at best. More likely the new person will be ruled just that: a new person. At best, a blood relative of the "donor". $\endgroup$
    – Matthew
    Mar 21, 2021 at 13:58
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    $\begingroup$ "They sue for the return of their property": on what base? You seem to believe that having the same DNA as another person gives you rights to that person's property. No, it doesn't. The property owner died and was buried. That a newborn has the same DNA is not important in any way. In fact, I would be extremely surprised if any legal code anywhere in the world even has the word "DNA" in it. (From a purely practical identity establishment point of view: the original owner died at 80 years of age. Now a teenager claims to be the same person. They would be laughed out of court...) $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Mar 21, 2021 at 15:24
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP Not to mention, identical twins can't automatically claim joint-ownership of all property (without need to pay inheritance tax) on basis of sharing the same DNA. $\endgroup$ Mar 21, 2021 at 15:33
  • $\begingroup$ VTC:Opinion-based. This isn't a worldbuilding question, it's a storybuilding question. A worldbuilding question would be, "The technology to resurrect people now exists. Given today's U.S. Federal law as the starting point, what changes in that law would be necessary to give the resurrected person rights to their formerly-owned property?" That's an objective question asking about a rule or system of your world. "What happens next?" is always asking us to write your story for you, and that's always opinion based. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Mar 21, 2021 at 18:41

6 Answers 6


Even if the revived individual is presumed to be the same as the deceased individual, rather than a clone or twin/sibling — for example, if a unique "soul" energy signature carrying memories was discovered, which only settles into the body if a "live" copy didn't already exist — then this will vary by jurisdiction.

Currently, the closest scenario we have access to is presumption of death, where a missing individual is ruled as legally dead. For example, in the UK a request can be made to the High Court if, after 7 years, there is no evidence that they are alive, the people most likely to have heard from them have had no contact, and inquiries and searches made to try and locate the individual have all failed. Their estate then undergoes probate, and the individual is not entitled to compensation should they subsequently resurface.

In the USA, declaration of death is at a state level, unless there is specific cause for the federal government to have jurisdiction (e.g. military personnel, missing in combat). Criteria evaluated commonly include

  • The party normally must have been missing from their home or usual residence for an extended period, most commonly seven years
  • Their absence must have been continuous and inexplicable (e.g. the person did not say they had found a new job and were moving far away)
  • There must have been no communication from the party with those people most likely to hear from them during the period the person has been missing
  • There must have been a diligent but unsuccessful search for the person and/or diligent but unsuccessful inquiry into their whereabouts.

Most states require an absence of 7 years, but some require fewer (Minnesota and Georgia have both reduced it to four!). Many states will waive this time period under exceptional circumstances such as "imminent peril", for example a plane crash. This was used in the aftermath of 9/11, to issue death certificates for numerous missing individuals.

Some states will require that the individual be compensated should they return, while others make no such provision.

A word of caution

In 1976, a man named John Burney disappeared in Arkansas, and was declared legally dead after the state's required 5 years had elapsed. In 1982, he resurfaced, and attempted to reclaim his estate. The courts disagreed, and declared that his beneficiaries did not have to return the money. On the other hand, the company who had paid out life insurance to his wife and company sued — and won. John Burney wound up owing them $470,000.



The question has been edited in such a way as to make my original answer invalid. I shall change it to a frame challenge.

  1. Recreating memories is completely impossible without preserving the original brain.

  2. Merely making multiple copies illegal would not solve anything. Crimes happen all the time. You could not prosecute someone for being resurrected. You could not kill them either. If by accident or on purpose someone was resurrected multiple times, prosecuting the perpetrator won't help.

The new person has no rights other than ordinary human rights

You cannot create a new person whole from DNA. You have to implant the DNA in a donor egg and then grow the person within a womb or artificial womb. By the time they were adult, all their memories would be from the new life. You could not implant old memories unless you had cryogenically stored the old brain perfectly and then mapped all the inter-neuron connections. For reasons that would take too long to explain, this is impossible. Instead you would have to revive the old brain, kill the new person by removing their brain and connecting up the old one to the new body.

I would argue that the reconstructed person is a new person with no rights to the estate. My reasoning is that it would be possible to make dozens of new people from the old DNA and it would be impossible to say which of these was the "real" person.

Merely making a person from DNA would not restore any of their memories. They would not "be" the same person any more than identical twins are the same person. They would simply have to be adopted into a normal family and start again from scratch.

  • $\begingroup$ You brought up a good point. I forgot to mention that the person would in fact have all memories. (Somehow.) I edited the question. They would however still be able to create multiple people, though it is already illegal to do so. $\endgroup$
    – cowlinator
    Mar 21, 2021 at 12:09
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    $\begingroup$ Please do not edit questions substantially in such a way as to invalidate answers. $\endgroup$ Mar 21, 2021 at 12:21

Looking at it from just the legal aspect. it is doubtful this person would have any hope of success.

In almost every legal jurisdiction, there is a concept of probate. it is a generally recognized legal process to distribute an estate after death, that has a legal resolution and a legal end to the process. Once the probate process is legally concluded, it is essentially 'cast in stone'. Even if some long-lost relative comes to light after probate is concluded, they have no claim. My research can not come up with a single case where probate has been 'reopened' after someone crawls out of the rocks.

That is why, in most probate procedures, there is a period where potential inheritors must make their claim, and if they do not do so during this period, they no longer have a right to make a claim on the estate. Once the clock runs out, it is over. A Statute of Limitations, as it were, to make a claim.

Probate is a legal process, completely independent of changing 'facts' or 'circumstance'. Once it is over, it is over, despite how the facts or circumstances 'change'. So unless your future society completely changes probate laws, this person is out of luck legally. If you decide to change probate laws, then you open up a complete can of worms - potential 'inheritors' would be crawling out all over the place, years after probate had been concluded, with all sorts of scam excuses as to why they had a claim on the estate, and probate courts would be overloaded with frivolous scam claims from 'long lost uncles' and 'illegitimate children' from people putting their DNA into some ancestry registry database to find their ancestors.


This issue has popped up in a few places, though the only one that springs to mind right now is Girl Genius, where the nobility of Europa only have wealth and power on their first life; if you're brought back after an unfortunate accident that's nice for you, but the titles have already passed on.

Accelerando has a treatment from the other direction, where all incarnations/instances of a person can be held jointly and severally liable for the actions of any incarnation/instance of a person. Someone comes back from a long journey to find that their empire has been destroyed, their power is gone, and a lot of people are interested in debts their other self accrued (including the child of another instance of themselves).

Assuming that laws have somehow not changed significantly, which side has a more compelling case?

Legally speaking, who is the recurrectee? If they're considered to be "themselves", then it would seem that they have some kind of legal standing to try and claw stuff back, but they were very clearly dead at one point and if everyone followed the law I don't know how they can have much hope of success.

Conversely, if the resurectee is just held to be a copy of the original they might be able to have some claim on a portion of the estate, as if they were some previously unknown descendant like an illegitimate child or whatever. Clearly the original already died, and this copy might think they're the original, but they very clearly aren't (on account of the whole death thing) so they can't expect to just waltz back into what is effectively someone else's life even if they felt they really deserved it.

There are other potential legal issues, such as the inheritors of their estate creating their own resurectee, and supporting the claims of that instance with whom they have had a nice chat explaining the difficulties of the situation, and that if they want anything at all they're gonna have to co-operate and fight against a copy of themselves who is trying to cheat them out of their rightful claims, etc etc.

So much fun to be had. Its a bright future for the lawyers. Jarndyce v Jarndyce in Spaaaaace!


(Of course DNA doesn't contain memory, but lets asume you have reincarnation that gives memories somehow so the question is answerable...)

Case would be thrown out (under current law).

The reincarnated person wouldn't be able to speak on day 1. The muscles are different to the ones they know how to use, and thus they'd be a ball of crying and pooing just like the rest of us were at that age.

By the time they're able to communicate effectively (could vary from weeks to years - I don't know and it doesn't really matter anyway), they've already been established as a new person with a legal identity. Different name. Different parents. Different date of birth.

Also there's a high likelihood of different citizenship. I may of died in LA speaking english, but odds are I'd be reincarnated in Mali or Niger, the countries with the highest birth rates. Pity I didn't learn French, and how soon can my family realistically scrape up the money to fly from Africa to LA to lodge the court case?

Legally I'm a separate person to that old guy who died. Case dismissed. I'd probably even have to pay legal fees to the descendants for such a frivolous case.

The soon-to-die would start hiding their fortunes.

After losing my entire fortune and having to get it all back again in life #2, as I'm getting old again, this time:

  • I'd hide it in a bank account under a pseudonym with a password only I know.
    • A tax haven would probably offer this service for a fee.
  • Or I could just bury it somewhere only I know where.
  • Or put it all in bitcoin. commit the private key to memory, and remove all reference to it.
  • Or anywhere else that's going to escape the trustees searches.

When I die, what's left gets handed down to my descendants, and I'm back with my memories as a new person, I then go and reclaim my fortune that I hid away.

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    $\begingroup$ Yes to hiding family fortune. No to resurrecting an entire person from DNA. You would have to start with a single cell and grow it normally in a donor egg. By the time you have an adult, their memories are all brand new. $\endgroup$ Mar 21, 2021 at 12:32
  • $\begingroup$ @chasly-supportsMonica The whole "DNA doesn't contain memories" has been challenged already, I don't think it needs repeating. $\endgroup$
    – Ash
    Mar 21, 2021 at 12:33
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    $\begingroup$ DNA does not contain an individual's memories. There is no getting around this.. I have added to my answer to say that the only way would be to transplant the old brain into the new body (thereby killing the new person). If you don't transplant the brain then the new person has zero memories of the burial site or of their former life. $\endgroup$ Mar 21, 2021 at 12:45
  • $\begingroup$ While I agree with many of your points, this question is about deliberate resurrection, not reincarnation. It would be known from the get-go that this was a ‘pre-existing person’, and national birth rates are irrelevant for a lab-grown ‘Lazzy’. $\endgroup$ Mar 21, 2021 at 16:05

Legally, the resurrected person hasn't a chance unless resurrected very shortly after the death. This is because people who have not died have been unable to reclaim their estates if they waited too long.

You might get somewhere if probate is not complete. (Then, we've dealt with people declared legally dead reviving. This is just a little longer.)


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