Dead Man's Statute

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A dead man statute is a statute designed to prevent perjury in a civil case by prohibiting a witness who is an interested party from testifying about communications or transactions with a deceased person (a "decedent") against the decedent's estate unless there is a waiver.

This prohibition applies only against a witness who has an interest in the outcome of the case and applies only where that witness is testifying for his own interests and against the interests of the decedent. Furthermore, the restriction only exists in civil cases, never in criminal cases.

The restriction can be waived. A waiver can occur in a number of ways:

  1. The decedent's representative fails to object to the testimony;
  2. The decedent's own representative testifies to the communication;
  3. The decedent's testimony is brought before the jury in the form of a deposition or in another form.

In the United States there is no federal law imposing such a restriction,[1] but about half of the U.S. States have enacted a dead man statute. Some states have enacted compromise variations to the rule. For example, in Virginia, an interested witness may testify only as to the statements of the deceased if this testimony is corroborated by a disinterested witness. In other states, such as Illinois, the rule has been expanded to prevent an interested party from testifying about communications with a minor or a legally incompetent person.