I have posted before about whether zombies or vampires meet the definition of death under Australian Law. As a reminder in Australia the legal definition of death, is defined as:
- a) Irreversible cessation of all function of the brain of the person; or
- b) Irreversible cessation of circulation of blood in the body of the person.
Ghosts by this or any other definition are dead. Where zombies or vampires, arguably are undead. However in Beetle Juice Barbara and Adam Maitland died in a car accident whilst decorating their Country home, only realizing this as they lack reflections and discover a Handbook for the Recently Deceased after returning to their house following the accident. The Handbook, directs them to a bizarre waiting room, where their caseworker informs them they must remain in the house for 125 years. Therefore although dead they can no longer legally own their home they have a form of “spectral title” over it.
If a person who dies remains attached to their property in such a fashion it is assumed that their estate will be administered, their debts paid and property sold or distributed to their next of kin leaving them with no legal right to the property owned while they were alive. This occurs in Beetle Juice as the Deetzes who purchased the Maitland’s property from Barbara and Adam’s executors redecorate it in a way that appalls the now deceased former owners forcing them to contact the eponymous ghost to help scare the Deetzes out of the house.
That being said there are examples of ghosts working (presumably earning income) and controlling property. Professor Cuthbert Binns was History of Magic professor at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. His lessons were regarded as some of the most boring at Hogwarts – however he was able to let Harry Potter know about the Chamber of Secrets.
One day he died in his sleep in the staff room yet continues to teach, boring his students (often to sleep) with Goblin Rebellions and Giant Wars.
Professor Binns doesn’t appear in the films but as a deceased person would lose any rights to property in his estate. In the novels Binns is said to own an office in the main castle. Hogwarts appears to be making a saving in keeping him on staff as he wouldn’t require payment for the necessities of life. Similarly the green ghost who slimes Bill Murray’s character in the Ghostbusters movie appears in the Ghostbusters cartoons, helping around the firehouse – famously defeating ghostly manifestations of the Ghostbusters that inhabit their old uniforms following exposure to ghostly energies from the containment unit.
In some ghost stories the spectral entity manifests itself as physical property. The Flying Dutchman is a ghost ship that can never make port and is doomed to sail the oceans forever. If hailed by another ship, the crew of the Flying Dutchman will try to send messages to land, or to people long dead; the sight of this phantom ship is a portent of doom.
In this instance the ship is crewed by ghosts therefore any estate that they may have had has been distributed to their long dead heirs. However they still have control of a vessel that depending upon the accounts of sailors that have witnessed it may physically exist.
In some telling’s the Flying Dutchman is the captain of the ghost ship, cursed to sail the oceans as the master of a ship crewed by ghosts. In this version every seven years the captain is cast ashore; if he can find a wife who will be true to him he will be released from his curse. In this instance it could be argued that the captain is under the influence of dark magic in a similar fashion to a traditional Haitian zombie.