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Legally dead man's future remains murky

FINDLAY — Donald E. Miller Jr.'s future remains as murky as his past.

Miller DonaldE


The Fostoria man attracted national and international attention this week after a Hancock County judge ruled that Miller is still legally dead, although Miller appeared and testified in court.

In 1994, Probate Judge Allan Davis ruled that Miller was legally dead, about eight years after Miller disappeared from his Arcadia home.

That decision can't be undone, Davis said this week. Under Ohio law, a death ruling can only be changed within three years, Davis said.

Miller's Social Security number and driver's license have been canceled, Miller said.

Miller, 61, is stuck for now in legal limbo with few ways out.

However, a legally dead person could appeal the judge's decision, said John Martin, professor of law at Ohio Northern University, Ada.

Legal aid services or an enterprising attorney would likely handle the case for free, Martin said.

"Just for the fun of it, somebody should take" the case, Martin said.

Ohio's missing-person law is necessary to settle some estates and marriages, Martin said. But revising the law to allow a person to have a clean start after a certain period would resolve cases such as Miller's, he said.

"Why they put 'three years' in there is a mystery to me," Martin said.

Miller's attorney, Francis Marley of Fostoria, told that an appeal to a higher court will "probably not" occur."

We may go another avenue as far as federal something, but we haven't decided yet," Marley said. "He's obviously disappointed. Who wouldn't be?"

Marley has not returned calls from The Courier seeking comment. Efforts to contact Miller also have been unsuccessful.

The few "legally dead" people like Miller remain subject to taxation by the Internal Revenue Service, said Professor Erik Jensen, who teaches tax law at Case Western Reserve University.

Otherwise, more Americans would consider imitating Miller's disappearance, Jensen said.But the IRS likely has not established a policy on these cases, given how rare they are, Jensen said.

These "dead" people may not have many assets, he said.

The IRS isn't commenting. Its press office is closed during the partial government shutdown.

Miller's legal rejection came Monday at the end of a court hearing.

He had left Arcadia around 1986 and worked odd jobs around Atlanta and Marathon, Fla., he told Judge Davis.He did not elaborate why he left, except to say he was an alcoholic who lost his job.

Miller's ex-wife, Robin, sought the death ruling in 1994. Miller owed about $26,000 in child support at the time, she said, and she had spent money trying to find him.

The judge's ruling allowed their children to receive Social Security death benefits.

Robin Miller opposed a reversal of the death ruling because she was worried about having to pay the benefits back, she said.

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