Law Professors, Law Reviews, Movies, Tax Law, Weirdness

Welcome to Zombie Law 101

No one likes a lazy welfare zombie.

How a person handles a semi-serious discussion of the zombie apocalypse can be an important indicator of a person’s sense of humor and general pleasantness to be around.

At my old apartment in Oakland, my friends and I would often discuss barricading the front door, disabling the elevator, transforming old liquor into Molotov cocktails to hurl off the balcony, how best to make use of the convenience store across the street… some actual thought went into our analysis. (We also lived in Oakland, so there’s that.)

But it’s not just weirdos like me who enjoy this stuff — turns out law professors do, too. Last week, we read about a law prof analyzing Jay-Z’s “99 Problems.” And today, we take a look at one legal academic’s investigation into the crazy problems the U.S. government must manage once it is forced to maintain revenues in the face of the rise of the undead….

Professor Adam Chodorow, at Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, wrote Death and Taxes and Zombies for an upcoming edition of the Iowa Law Review. The piece begins with a historical analysis of zombies, including their origins in Haitian voodoo and appearances in modern pop culture like Harry Potter (see the imperius curse), The Walking Dead, and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (affiliate link).

The first issue Professor Chodorow tackles is that of an estate tax. Does a zombie count as a “decedent”?

Zombies have been described variously as the “walking dead,” the “undead,” and the “living dead,” raising the question whether the estate tax should apply when a taxpayer becomes a zombie or, in the alternative, after a person’s zombie has been dispatched. The answer to this question hinges on how one defines decedent. On the one hand, it could be a question of law. On the other hand, this could be a question of fact, the answer to which depends on the nature of the zombie plague with which we are dealing. On yet a third hand, it could present a mixed question of law and fact. Fortune favors the bold, so into the fray.

He engages in a lengthy discussion on the issue that includes comparisons to stroke victims, people with Alzheimer’s, or those in a vegetative state:

One difference may be that those afflicted by strokes would likely not develop an overpowering hunger for brains.


But we are just getting started. Next, he raises the problem of zombies and the income tax. Because no one likes a lazy welfare zombie. Professor Chodorow begin the discussion by mentioning that by “some reports, zombies have been known to return to places where they used to work. Similarly, the living have put zombies to work on occasion.” We are talking about zombie slaves here, essentially. That said:

The internal revenue code imposes a tax on all incomes, and the issue will be who is liable to pay the tax on zombie-earned income. The code defines “taxpayer” as any “person” subject to any internal revenue tax, and it defines “person” to include an individual, trust, estate, partnership, or corporation. Are zombies taxpayers under this definition? As with the question of whether zombies are decedents, the answer to this important question may depend on the type of zombie involved.

Man, I know it’s still early, but I kind of want to go watch 28 Days Later or The Crazies.

But Professor Chodorow is no imaginary monster elitist. In the interest of completeness, the paper also considers how “estate and income tax laws should apply to vampires and ghosts,” who you could also qualify as undead:

While the tax issues that arise with regard to vampires are similar to those that arise with zombies, real and important differences exist. For instance, a conclusion that the estate tax does not apply to those who become vampires could have a far greater impact on government revenues than one about zombies because vampires are typically rich. For instance, Count Dracula owned a large castle and vast hoards of gold. Escaping the estate tax could provide a significant financial benefit for him and others like him. And in contrast to zombies, vampires could actually enjoy their untaxed wealth. Consider the estate taxes Steve Jobs could have saved had he become a vampire instead of dying. He could also have retained control over Apple, so long as he scheduled meetings only at night.

Goddammit, why didn’t someone think of that earlier? We could have saved Steve, and he could still be with us now. Also, despite the fact that having vampires in a society is, well, dangerous, it would all be worth it just to hear hard-core conservatives start complaining about unfair taxation of the upper-class vampire demographic.

The deadpan humor throughout the 25-page law review article makes it a good, quick read. It is worth checking out, and as the CDC reminds us, always be ready. You never know when you might have to chop a zombie’s head off with a shovel.

Death and Taxes and Zombies [Iowa Law Review (PDF)]

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