Suppose you cause it to be falsely reported that you have died, and your purpose is only to see your enemies gloating over your demise at your funeral and then being disappointed to learn that you are alive. During the rite, you sit up in your coffin and sing an aria. (Suppose the aria is not subject to copyright.)

Would there be legal consequences?

(A character in a certain novel claimed to have done this. I think he said the aria was from the opera Jesse James. I don't think that opera exists in reality.)

  • Would the answer be different if the aria were under copyright? There is a country-and-western rock opera/concept album called The Legend of Jesse James; while I wouldn't normally call a song from such a work an "aria," could this be what the novelist intended?
    – phoog
    Oct 13, 2016 at 19:30
  • @phoog : The novel was Glory Road by Robert Heinlein, published in about 1965. It could be viewed as an early anti-Vietnam-war thing, although I don't think that was its main point. Oscar, the protagonist, organizes his whole life around the goal of not getting sent to Vietnam. After he is wounded in combat in Vietnam and discharged, he no longer has a central purpose in life, and then he meets a beautiful woman who needs to hire a "hero" to go with her to Nevia and slay dragons with a sword and capture the Egg of the Phoenix. A man named Rufo makes that claim about faking his own death. Oct 13, 2016 at 21:13
  • @phoog : As to the name of the opera, I'm not sure I recall it correctly. Oct 13, 2016 at 21:14
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    @user6726 : I specified that the aria is not subject to copyright in order to keep it away from copyright issues. I suspect any questions about copyrights are unaltered by the faking of the death. Oct 13, 2016 at 21:51
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    As long as you've done no wrong to the publishers of the report, there's no law requiring you to generally disseminate just the truth. You could make a political statement, be sarcastic, be a jerk, or whatever your motive might be. It's only in certain legal interactions that you have to be truthful.
    – user6726
    Oct 14, 2016 at 0:27

1 Answer 1


I'll use Wisconsin as a jurisdiction.

If you file a false death certificate, that's a felony. But you probably wouldn't go that far.

It could be disorderly conduct. In Wisconsin disorderly conduct is described as follows:

Whoever, in a public or private place, engages in violent, abusive, indecent, profane, boisterous, unreasonably loud or otherwise disorderly conduct under circumstances in which the conduct tends to cause or provoke a disturbance is guilty of a Class B misdemeanor.

There's also a statute prohibiting "Disrupting a funeral or memorial service" but it won't apply in this case unless disorderly conduct applies. It would raise the penalty to a class A misdemeanor (or a class I felony if you somehow did it again after being convicted once.)

On the civil side, there could be an action for intentional infliction of emotional distress, either for the false report of your death, or for a "corpse" suddenly coming to life. This kind of lawsuit requires "extreme and outrageous conduct", but if this isn't, I don't know what would be.

  • On the other hand: is a funeral legally still a funeral if the deceased is found to no longer be deceased? Jan 16, 2021 at 7:46
  • @GraemeRock The statute says "“Funeral or memorial service" ... does not include a service that is not intended to honor or commemorate one or more specific decedents." It was intended that it would commemorate a specific decedent, however, the decedent isn't really a decedent. I don't know how the courts would interpret this.
    – D M
    Jan 17, 2021 at 18:45
  • I remember a movie where a very pleasant dead man's very pleasant friends appeared at the funeral and each stuck a needle into him to make sure he was indeed dead :-) Could they be charged with assault if he was alive?
    – gnasher729
    Nov 28, 2022 at 10:13
  • @gnasher729 Probably depends on whether they actually expected a fake death. And after the first few people stuck a needle in and there was no reaction, it would be rather difficult to prove beyond a reasonable that the remaining people actually thought he might be alive.
    – D M
    Nov 28, 2022 at 22:30

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