The Illinois Dead Man’s Act is a law about evidence. It essentially protects someone who isn’t able to testify, either because they are dead or because they are incapacitated and mentally incompetent to testify. The other side is not allowed to testify about conversations they had with the deceased. The idea is that they would be tempted to lie if there was no one around to dispute their testimony.
The Dead Man’s Act applies not only to plaintiffs and defendants but to others who are “directly interested in the action.” It also applies to events that occur in the presence of the deceased or incapacitated person – the signing of a document, for example.
There are exceptions. Witnesses who don’t have a stake in the outcome (meaning there’s no financial benefit to them) can testify about conversations and events involving the deceased or incapacitated person. There are some technical exceptions, as well, in which testimony can be allowed during a trial.
If the deceased party gave testimony before they died, in the form of a deposition, then the opposing party can get around the Dead Man’s Act and testify about things that would otherwise be prohibited. It would be limited to the issues in the deposition.
If you have a case against someone who is deceased or mentally unable to testify, then the Illinois Dead Man’s Act might play an important role in your case.
Written by Michael Helfand