A woman’s struggle to prove she is alive

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A woman's struggle to prove she is alive


“My problem is that I was declared dead,” says Jeanne Pouchain.


'I want the state to give me back my identity,' says Jeanne Pouchain


© AFP
‘I want the state to give me back my identity,’ says Jeanne Pouchain


It may seem incredible, but that is exactly what happened to this 58-year-old Frenchwoman, who lives near Lyon.

As a result, their identity and driver’s licenses are no longer valid, their social security number has been canceled and their health insurance has been terminated.

“I’m dead. I’m dead for the courts, for government agencies, I’m dead for everyone.”

She told in a recent interview with a TV show that she never leaves home because she doesn’t know what could happen if she was arrested or had any other problems.

“My husband does the shopping. I don’t dare drive like I used to. I wake up in the morning and I can’t wait for the day to end.”

This is not a recent problem – Jeanne has been officially dead for three years.

Dead or alive?



Jeanne Pouchain has been officially dead for three years


© AFP
Jeanne Pouchain has been officially dead for three years


Finding out that she was no longer legally alive was, as you can imagine, a shock.

“I found out through a trial at the Lyon Court of Appeal,” said Jeanne. “The bailiffs came and told me about the ‘deceased’ Jeanne Pouchain.”

Court officials had two letters, one for the husband and one for the son. “Reading these documents, I realized that, in fact, I was dead.”


Legal action against Jeanne Pouchain reached France's highest court


© Getty Images
Legal action against Jeanne Pouchain reached France’s highest court


The problems started for Jeanne when she was sued by a former employee of a cleaning company she ran and sought compensation for losing her job nearly 20 years ago.

The case went through the French legal system for years, until a Lyon court ruled in 2017 that compensation would have to be paid, but the manager of the cleaning company had already passed away.

Jeanne says she never received a subpoena to attend the hearing and was therefore unable to challenge the financial settlement or her new status as a deceased person.

As a result, she not only remained legally dead, but her husband and son were instructed to pay R $ 124,000 to the former employee.

The effects of the verdict turned out to be more than just financial. “I stopped going out, I stay at home as much as possible. When someone rings the doorbell, I hide because I’m afraid. I don’t know what other bad news will come.”

You only live twice



Jeanne lives in recluse at home for fear of what might happen if she leaves


© AFP
Jeanne lives in recluse at home for fear of what might happen if she leaves


More than three years later, Jeanne is still trying to persuade the French administrative system to legally resuscitate her.

“I want the state to give me back my identity. I want to have my life back, my family back, my husband, my son, my social circle.”

Jeanne’s lawyer needs to prove the nullity of the court document by declaring that she is dead in order to overturn the previous verdict that described her as deceased.

“The most important thing is to prove that I am alive, to prove that I exist,” she says.


Jeanne's lawyer needs to prove the nullity of the court document by declaring that she is dead


© Reuters
Jeanne’s lawyer needs to prove the nullity of the court document by declaring that she is dead


No one knows exactly how the problem came about.

Jeanne’s lawyer, Sylvain Cormier, in statements to the AFP news agency, said that “the former employee said she was dead, without providing any evidence, and everyone believed it”.

“No one checked,” added Cormier.

The former employee did not speak publicly, nor was she even identified, but her lawyer accuses Jeanne of being involved in her own death.

They claim she played dead to try to avoid litigation, including refusing to respond to court letters. Both sides contest the version of the facts presented by the other party.

Whoever is speaking the truth, one thing is clear: Jeanne is not dead.

She received some positive news. A government agency said it no longer identified her as dead, but neither did she classify her as alive.

“I’m being reborn,” says Jeanne.

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