Should the Living Dead Pay Taxes?

Posted August 13, 2012 in Estate Planning by


A new law review article tackles the hairy but pressing issue of whether the government should be collecting estate and income taxes from zombies. Yes, zombies. And vampires, ghosts, and, to a lesser extent, spirits.

The reason for the scholarly article is the author’s not entirely unwarranted concern that we are on the brink of imminent financial disaster.

In the form of a zombie apocalypse.

“A zombie apocalypse will create an urgent need for significant government revenues to protect the living, while at the same time rendering a large portion of the taxpaying public dead or undead,” writes Professor Adam Chodorow, who teaches tax law at the Arizona State University Law School.

For complacent and skeptical readers out there, consider that last May the Centers for Disease Control warned about disaster preparedness in the event of a zombie virus outbreak.

Law professor Adam Chodorow

Chodorow rightly points out that the federal tax laws do not define what it means to be alive or dead, thus throwing into doubt how laws apply to zombies or others who exist in some state between life and death.

Zombies come in all stripes, and not all of them transitioned into zombiehood the same way.

“Some zombies slowly stumble along in search of brains upon which to feed, exhibiting little personality or ability to think. Others move quickly, organize, and learn,” Chodorow argues.

The threshold legal question triggering the estate tax – also known as the “death tax” – is whether a zombie is dead, alive, or simply undead. This is typically defined under state law and will depend on numerous factors, including whether a state looks to heart function or brain function to determine signs of life.

For example, independently functioning zombies like those portrayed in “Night of the Living Dead” or “The Walking Dead” would likely be considered alive and escape the death tax, whereas the traditional Haitian variety, who are typically controlled by sorcerers, would tend toward being dead and thus subject to estate taxes.

Zombies who have died and come back to life intact, such as Lazarus whom Jesus rose from the dead, or perhaps Ted Williams at some future date, are also to be distinguished from those who have died and return in an altered state, Chodorow notes.

In the end, the author advocates uniformity over accuracy, proposing a single federal definition for “decedent” rather than try to sort out the messy patchwork of state laws in the midst of a zombie attack.

On the question of whether the living dead must file income taxes, Chodorow homes in on the crucial issue of whether a zombie qualifies as a “person” and thus falls within the definition of “taxpayer.”

He notes that those manipulated by others, such as Lord Voldemort’s Inferi in the Wizard Wars, could likely take advantage of this loophole, whereas zombies who act on free will are more likely to be responsible for paying taxes on their income.

The author then moves on to vampires and ghosts, and leans toward the conclusion that vampires are taxable based on evidence of high-functioning brains and ability to reproduce (whereas ghosts, being neither undead nor income-producing, are subject only to estate taxes).

“Unlike traditional zombies, vampires retain all their faculties and in many ways become better versions of their original selves: faster, stronger and un-aging…. Because they are likely to be seen as a continuation of the person who died, the original person is likely to be treated as alive, even though he is undead,” the author writes.

While the article is timely, well-reasoned, and clearly well-researched, containing over 100 footnotes, its premise of a zombie apocalypse bringing on financial ruin is just silly. After all, the author does not cite to a single legal case where the U.S. Treasury has lost revenue from a tax-cheating zombie. Seems zombies are already paying their fair share.

The living, the undead and the quasi-dead can all visit to learn more about estate planning and to locate an attorney in your area who can answer your questions.

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