By Devansh Muwal, Rishiraj Jha
The legal realm concerning the rights of individuals after their demise is complex and diverse, encompassing aspects like property distribution, privacy, dignity, and intellectual property. These posthumous rights are crucial for fulfilling the wishes of the deceased, upholding societal values, and protecting their interests after death. Beyond material possessions, posthumous rights also encompass the autonomy, dignity, and legacy of the departed. These rights have evolved over time, shaped by historical developments and cultural practices, aiming to address the complexities associated with death. In our diverse society, posthumous rights gain increasing importance due to technological advancements and shifting societal norms. Striking a balance between honoring the autonomy of the deceased, protecting heirs’ interests, and maintaining social harmony requires understanding legal frameworks, societal norms, and cultural sensitivities. This article aims to explore the legal rights of the deceased, focusing on historical development and practical application within the Indian context. It delves into property, privacy, dignity, and intellectual property rights, promoting equitable treatment of their wishes and assets.
Throughout history, the rights of the deceased have undergone significant evolution across various civilizations and cultures. In ancient times, societies attached immense importance to the afterlife, resulting in elaborate funeral rites and practices like mummification in ancient Egypt. During the medieval period, religious beliefs played a central role in shaping the rights of the dead, with notions of final judgment impacting proper burial and the establishment of burial grounds and rituals. In the modern era, the concept of posthumous rights has become more complex due to diverse and secular societies. Legal frameworks now address crucial aspects such as inheritance, property rights, and the respectful disposal of human remains. Notably, the legal recognition of a deceased person’s autonomy in organ donation decisions exemplifies an elevated status for the dead.
Property rights of a dead person refer to the rights that the deceased person’s heirs or beneficiaries have to the assets and properties left behind by them. Under jurisprudence, property rights of the dead person are considered an extension of their natural rights. According to this view, individuals have a right to property as a means of securing their own welfare and that of their dependents. This right does not cease to exist upon the death of the individual, but instead passes on to their heirs or beneficiaries. The Indian Succession Act, 1925 governs the distribution of the property of a deceased person in India. According to this Act, the property of the deceased person is transferred to their heirs or beneficiaries in accordance with their will or in the absence of a will, according to the rules of intestate succession. In addition to the Indian Succession Act, various other laws also recognize and protect the property rights of the dead person in India. For instance, the Hindu Succession Act, 1956, the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act, 1937. One important case is K. Bhaskaran v. Sankaran Vaidhyan Balan, in which the Supreme Court of India ruled that the right to reputation extends even after death, and that it is the duty of the court to protect the reputation of the deceased. It is worth noting that property rights of the dead person are not absolute in India.
Rights to Privacy and Dignity
The right to privacy and dignity after death is another important legal right of a deceased person. In India, the right to privacy after death is protected under the Indian Penal Code (IPC). Section 499 of the IPC provides for punishment for defamation of a deceased person’s reputation. This section states that whoever, by words either spoken or intended to be read, or by signs or by visible representations, makes or publishes any imputation concerning any person intending to harm, or knowing or having reason to believe that such imputation will harm, the reputation of such person, is said to defame that person. Defaming a dead person is considered as defaming its heirs and family.
Rights to Intellectual Property
Within the realm of posthumous jurisprudence, the protection of intellectual property rights assumes a pivotal role. These rights encompass the preservation and inheritance of creative works, inventions, and other forms of intellectual property that individuals possess during their lifetime. In the Indian legal framework, intellectual property rights find their foundation in statutes such as the Copyright Act of 1957, the Patents Act of 1970, and the Trade Marks Act of 1999. These laws establish the bedrock for safeguarding and transferring intellectual property rights to deserving heirs or designated beneficiaries upon the passing of the original creator. This prudent approach facilitates effective management and protection of intellectual property after one’s passing, thereby perpetuating their legacy and enabling the continued utilization and benefits derived from their creative contributions. It is essential to acknowledge that intellectual property rights are not absolute, and certain limitations and exceptions may exist to foster innovation, ensure access to knowledge, and serve the greater societal welfare.
In conclusion, it is imperative to have a comprehensive understanding of the legal rights that pertain to individuals following their demise. This knowledge serves as a crucial foundation for upholding their wishes, ensuring the equitable distribution of assets, and preserving their legacy. By upholding the legal rights of the deceased, we not only fulfill our legal obligations but also reaffirm our commitment to principles of fairness, justice, and human dignity. Recognizing and respecting the rights of those who have passed on demonstrates our values as a compassionate and equitable society. The field of posthumous jurisprudence continues to evolve and adapt to the changing needs and aspirations of society. By actively participating in ongoing discussions, advocating for necessary legal reforms, and raising awareness about posthumous rights, we contribute to the progress and advancement of this field.