An Exaggerated Death Skip to content

An Exaggerated Death

“The report of my death was an exaggeration,” Mark Twain wrote in 1897. Kolbeinn Sigurðsson had a similar statement to make when he went to the Icelandic National Registry to register himself in domestic partnership in 1995.

Kolbeinn is one of five individuals who have erroneously been registered as deceased since 1985, as reported in July.

Four of the cases have been found to be due to mistakes in registration. The fifth man had gone missing and because a judge had declared him dead, his name was taken off the registry. He was later found to be alive.

Ingveldur Hafdís Karlsdóttir, department manager at the Icelandic National Registry, is not aware that such mistakes have caused the individuals who were incorrectly assumed dead any trouble to speak of. She was asked this question following reports by 60 Minutes of how U.S. citizens in a similar situation have seen their names erased from the systems of banks, the Internal Revenue Service, health care systems and public records.

When Kolbeinn visited the registry, he had been listed as dead for a month. The clerk was reportedly puzzled when Kolbeinn showed up. (This is understandable; the poor man may have believed he was seeing a ghost.)

What followed was three weeks of attempted resuscitation in the system. For that to be successful, Kolbeinn had to provide his birth certificate from Blönduós, where he was born. “And even though I had the papers, my ex-wife had to confirm this was indeed me,” Kolbeinn states. The reason for his presumed death, he says, is that a checkmark was put by the the wrong Kolbeinn’s name in the registry.

“This made me laugh,” Kolbeinn said, “I’m easily entertained.”

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