Thursday, October 2, 2014

Vampire Legal Issues, Season Five: The Mystic Falls Exists in a Legal Black Hole Edition

NOTE FROM KATE: From time to time, I make/let my friend Christine, who is a real life lawyer, go on about vampires and the law. Season six starts tonight, so let's legally recap season five!

Vampire Legal Issues, Season Five: The Mystic Falls Exists in a Legal Black Hole Edition

So Season Five was a season of The Vampire Diaries that was on TV! I have to be honest, it wasn’t my favorite season (too many villains, too many doppelgangers). But there were legal issues! These are kind of picked at random from what I remember and some recaps I skimmed over the summer, so this isn’t at all comprehensive but is rather a table of light refreshments, if by “refreshments” you mean “1,500 words of Christine complaining about the imaginary undead.”

I Guess It Depends on What You Mean By the Word “Move”

In the finale, the Travelers decide to change the boundaries of Mystic Falls by MOVING THE SIGN. Oh, says Markos, “we’ve reset the official boundary of Mystic Falls” so that it’s the same as the boundary of the spell. Um, no you haven’t. Have you EVER worked with a planning board? THAT WOULD TAKE YEARS. I suppose the Travelers could have inhabited the Mystic Falls planning board, but what about the other towns’ boards? Mystic Falls certainly ACTS like it exists in a vacuum, but surely it has bordering towns. So sorry, Markos, no dice. You did nothing to the official boundary, and you're going to have a dickens of a time sorting out your tax base.

Clearly Markos is not a details man and has just had his minions mark his desired boundary by moving the sign. This is obviously an excellent plan, because all you have to do to make a new town is mark the boundary in some way- signs, a chalk line, breadcrumbs- and it will WORK and no other towns will be annoyed or even notice (though I suppose if Mystic Falls’s neighbors were going to be annoyed they’d have popped up by now, and on second thought maybe vampires have killed most of central Virginia).

Also, if they did the spell to extend to the boundaries of Mystic Falls, how does that work? Does MAGIC just KNOW what the boundaries are, or do they have to do something like, “[magic talky-talk] and this extends to the boundaries of Mystic Falls as recorded in Book 2, Page 2894, Mystic Falls County Registry of Deeds”? Hee. I’d love to see them translate THAT into whatever the hell language they’re babbling.

You Think Coming Back From the Dead is Complicated for Our Beloved Characters? What about for their LAWYERS?

I feel really bad for the lawyers of Mystic Falls, because the precedent on people coming back to life after their estates have been probated is pretty light. I mean, YOU try to draft an estate plan for someone who could come back from the dead over a year after they died. It’s happening ALL OVER!  Assuming that your client will stay dead is basically malpractice at this point and there are probably no sample wills that contemplate that situation. Someone go to the boardinghouse and give the lawyers all of Damon’s bourbon.

LAWYER: *Sits in office, reconciling client trust accounts and wondering why she didn’t become a marine biologist.*
PHONE: *rings*
ELENA: Hi, this is Elena Gil-
LAWYER: *opens office supplies cabinet, takes out bourbon*
ELENA: -bert, and Alaric has come back to life. Can he have all his stuff back?

Seriously: when someone dies, their estate has to go through a process called probate- that is, the court-supervised process of re-titling assets in the name of the deceased person’s beneficiaries. (This can also be done by trust, but let’s not complicate issues.) So Alaric dies, or Bonnie (and her dad!), and hypothetically their heirs should be probating their estates- you know, selling the house, getting rid of furniture, changing the names on their bank accounts. That stuff wouldn’t belong to the dead person anymore, because there’s no dead hand control in property law. DEAD PEOPLE CAN’T OWN THINGS. (See: all my former Vampire Legal Issues columns, in which I complain about this at length.)

But what happens when the dead COME BACK? Do their heirs just give their stuff back voluntarily? Even if they did, surely at some point all that re-gifting would trigger the gift tax.
Anyway, the closest situation I could think of was people who have been presumed dead (sailors who disappeared at sea, prisoners taken captive and never heard from again). However, in Virginia you have to be missing for seven consecutive years (cite) to be presumed dead, and I have no idea what TVD's timeline is but it hasn't been that long since any of these people died.

I looked for cases of people returning from the dead and wanting their stuff back, but had a hard time finding anything really relevant (especially with a search limited to Virginia). There is, of course, The Return of Martin Guerre (and Sommersby!), but that’s more identity theft than a return from the dead. Of course, people are kidnapped or run away and return, but I didn’t find anything recent involving someone who had a lot of assets; in those cases, people can go to court to be declared alive again, but I didn’t find anything about the property complications, and presumably many of them had no property. There is Guillaume le Gentil, an 18th-century French scientist who was gone so long in his attempt to chart eclipses that, when he returned to France eleven years after leaving, his family had had him declared dead, his wife had remarried, and all his property had been claimed by others. It took tons of litigation and even the king to restore him, and I have doubt he was completely made whole.

The problem with all of those situations is that there was never a body, as there has been on TVD. So honestly, I have no idea how that would play out because I have never heard of a single case of actual resurrection (er, barring the religious). My best guess is that there would a LOT of litigation. Or, you know, that Damon would take care of it in some non-legal way. (I know he’s dead but whatever, we all know he’s coming back.)


Yay Alaric! He’s charming and also has been dead long enough for his estate to be probated. Didn’t he at one point give Elena the numbers for all his accounts and contact information for his family? Is his family dead? Who did he leave his property to? Does Elena just keep the loft for storage purposes? Did he own or rent the loft? What’s he living on now? Did someone save his license and passport or does he need new ones? Can you IMAGINE the paperwork?

Who the F*&$ Even Owns Those Houses Now?

I suppose this question is academic, since the gang can’t go back to Mystic Falls right now, but who owns the Salvatore house NOW? Did Damon have a will? Does Elena still own it?  Who’s managing his investments? (You KNOW he has some.) Matt invites Katherine into the Lockwood House! So he still owns it, then? I wonder if Tyler will want it back now that he’s human.

Man, the chains of title on these places must be INSANE.
Aaron Whitmore, Beneficiary of All the Trusts, Apparently

Remember Aaron Whitmore? Blond, Elena seemed to like him until her boyfriend killed him and she shrugged it off? What was his deal?
His guardian, Wes, ran the Augustine Society (which: vampires seriously couldn't escape some rural doctors? really??) and Aaron, once he finds out, pulls the funding by saying this spectacularly opaque thing: “My family’s trust came through.” Um, did it? What the hell does that mean? Was he going to get control over the trust at, say, 21, and he just happened to turn 21 in time to cut off Augustine’s funding? Was the Whitmore family PERSONALLY funding Augustine, or was it through the college? SURELY Aaron must have had a personal trust, entirely separate from the college’s funding.

I suppose that Aaron could have had Wes removed as trustee, but that process would depend on the terms of the trust. Perhaps he went to probate court, but I’d like to see him explaining that Wes was mismanaging the funds by spending money on vampire experimentation. Ha!

Furthermore, was Aaron living off the same money that funded Augustine? How does Whitmore College work? Did Aaron just own it, or did he control its funding? It was all very confusing. Anyway, I hope there was a residual beneficiary for that trust (trusts?)! It would be SUCH a shame for it to escheat to the state.

So that’s it for now. Season 6 starts tonight and I’m quite sure I’ll be back soon with more irrelevant questions about the legal arrangements of the imaginary undead. Find me on Twitter @twtrlessfriend or on my new blog, Reign of Terrible, where complain about TV, share history links, and generally babble.


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