Call for law to declare missing people "presumed dead"


22 February 2012

by Luke Thomas

The Commons Select Committee has called on the government to introduce a law allowing a missing person to be presumed dead.

The change would be intended to make it easier for the families of people who have been missing for a long time to deal with their affairs under the assumption that they have passed on. It would involve the introduction of an official certificate declaring a missing person "presumed dead", the establishment of "guardianship" orders allowing a relative to take control of an absent individual's financial affairs, and better legal advice and guidance for those involved in such a situation.

The report, suggests that, under the current system, the lack of a death certificate leads families into a confusing and complicated legal labyrinth where they are often unable to take important actions such as claiming on life insurance policies, assuming control of mortgages and bank accounts or putting legal affairs in order.

New legislation could be similar to Scotland's 1977 Presumption of Death Act, under which a person who has been missing for seven years will be legally declared as presumed dead. It was also suggested that it incorporate the idea of "guardianship orders", as seen in some states in Australia, which allows relatives some control over the estate of a missing person after three years have elapsed.

The report, which was launched in July 2011, included testimony from a number of people who had struggled through the tangled legal framework which is currently in place for dealing with the aftermath of a family member going missing.

The Ministry of Justice has said that it will "carefully consider" the suggestions in the report, and that it recognised "the emotional and practical difficulties faced by those whose loved ones are missing and thought to be dead". However, the Justice Minister Jonathan Djanogly claimed that the current approach was fit for purpose.

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