The Truth About The Legally-Dead Woman Fighting To Prove She's Alive

There are times when many of us wish we could play dead and have our existence wiped from the official "books." We'd get a chance to start anew and leave our old lives behind. Sounds pretty good, right? As one Frenchwoman has learned the hard way, "good" isn't the right adjective with which to describe this type of situation. Legal death isn't the reset button people think it is. It's messy, difficult, and filled with unforeseen hardships that aren't worth the trouble unless you're running from a lifelong prison sentence. Luckily, this wasn't an attempt to escape authorities.

Jeanne Pouchain has been legally dead for the past three years, according to AP News, and she's found that a fake death is anything but a fresh start. Instead, the woman is stuck in a sort of limbo that's been exceedingly detrimental to every aspect of her life. Things don't keep going when you're declared dead. They stop. There's no way to move forward when you don't exist. It's the sort of ironic poetry we could laugh at if Pouchain's fake death was her own fault, but that's not the case. A messy legal battle and a small yet severe judicial mistake led French courts to rule Pouchain deceased, and she's been living in fear while she fights to perform a bout of legal necromancy that would bring her back to the land of the living.

The legal battle that killed Pouchain

On January 11, 2021, Jeanne Pouchain went to court once again to prove that she's more than a spectral shade. She has a heartbeat, she draws breath, and she has the mental capacity to know she's received the short end of the legal stick. This wasn't Pouchain's first time in court, and it won't be her last as she fights to bring herself back to life. According to Forbes, this story starts roughly 20 years ago when a former employee filed a lawsuit against Pouchain's cleaning company.

The former employee took Pouchain's company to court for damages after being terminated when the company allegedly lost a big contract, according to The Guardian. In 2004, the courts ruled in favor of the former employee and ordered Pouchain's company to pay her 14,000 euros. That's a decent stack of cash. Except, the money was never paid. Since it was the company and not Pouchain herself who was ordered to rectify the damages, the order was never enforced.

Somewhere along the lines, something got crossed, and in 2016, an appellate court ordered Pouchain's husband and son to take on the damages. For some reason, they thought she was dead, but it wasn't official. That happened the following year when the former employee informed a courtroom full of professionals that Pouchain had died. It's why she hadn't answered any of the letters, duh. As far as the courts were concerned, Pouchain was dead.

That's not how it's supposed to work

As it turns out, the courts ruled Pouchain dead without any proof of her demise. According to a statement made by Pouchain's lawyer, Sylvain Cormier (found via Forbes), the courts took the former employee's word instead of, you know, asking for a death certificate or any other form of proof. She said it, so it must be true. "Everyone believed her. Nobody checked anything," Cormier says.

As The Guardian points out, the legally-dead woman has been wiped from all official records. No ID, no driver's license, zero access to her bank accounts, nothing. Though she was originally told this error would be swiftly corrected, the lack of access to documents that could prove her vitality — it's hard to get access when you're dead — has drawn the issue out for years.

Pouchain tells AP News that she's been living in a state of fear. Her car has been seized for debts she can't pay, and she sits in her home all day worrying that they'll come and take her furniture next. "I no longer exist. I don't do anything," she says. "I sit on the veranda and write."

Where Pouchain's legal team claims the former employee faked Pouchain's death as a way to force her family to pay up, the former employee's lawyers say Pouchain did the faking to get out of her obligation. The new court proceedings should resurrect Pouchain and set the record straight, saving the legally-dead woman from a life in limbo.