When you’re alive, if someone makes false statements about you that aren’t true – and in some cases, if true but it can be proved that such statements have been made with malice – this is called defamation of character. Defamation is ugly. It has the potential not only to destroy your reputation, but your family and your livelihood, too. Quite frankly, words are akin to weapons that have the ability to make or break your life. Thankfully, those with enough money and a good, solid case, have the ability to sue for libel (if the offending words are written) or slander (if the words have been disseminated orally).
When you die, however, you lose that ability to seek redress. You may think those rights are now passed onto your family or Estate, but they’re not. Once you’re dead, anything can be written or said about you without consequences. And all it takes is the circulation of one lie to ruin your good name.
Celebrities are often subject to libel in the tabloid press. But libel and slander aren’t simply the preserve of the rich and famous. Every day, courts are dealing with the maligned reputations of ordinary individuals and/or businesses small and large. Some lose their jobs, their friends, their families, their health and well-being, all due to the effects of defamation. Some resort to legal redress, while others feel that seeking such redress will only add fuel to the fire. But the common factor is that – with enough money and stamina – celebrity or not, one can seek legal redress.
But this is not the case when you die. A lie about you may surface and spread. This time, nothing can be done about it because you’re no longer here to defend yourself, and your family can’t go after the individual(s) responsible because there are no defamation rights for the deceased. Now your good name is forever tarnished and your family has to deal with the aftermath. You may have children or a significant other who have to navigate through the mire of injustice, or the company you left behind might be wound up because nobody wants to do business with something you were associated with any more. The countless possibilities of how it might affect all those who knew and loved you are profound. These situations happen more frequently than you think.
Now, imagine if there was a law that could extend defamation protection to your family and Estate after you die….
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Dee Pfeiffer, Professional freelance writer and editor based in the heart of the UK, MJL Trustee
Acil Leitz, Advocate