Every year a staggering number of people go missing. Estimates are around 250,000. Most disappearances may only be short term but for some families the disappearance of a loved one can last for a significant period of time, or even indefinitely.
Aside from the obvious unimaginable, emotional trauma that these families go through there are many other practical, legal and financial difficulties that can cause immense stress to those left behind.
If there is no valid power of attorney in place, friends or family members do not have the legal authority to make any decisions relating to the financial affairs of a missing person. Bills cannot be paid, bank accounts cannot be monitored, houses cannot be sold and decisions about mortgages cannot be made. This can often lead to extreme financial hardship, especially for the spouse of a missing person with joint finances, which can only be resolved once a certificate of presumed death can be obtained. This certificate can only be gained after seven years.
What is Claudia’s law and how will it help the guardians of a missing person?
Thanks to vigorous campaigning by charities such as Missing Persons and high profile cases like Claudia Lawrence a new law, which has been labelled ‘Claudia’s Law’, has passed through parliament in order to provide a much needed solution to the immediate difficulties faced in the aftermath of a disappearance.
The new Guardianship (Missing Persons) Act 2017 makes room for a process similar to the appointment of a Property and Financial Affairs Deputy for those lacking mental capacity to make particular decisions.
Whilst the Act has now received royal assent, it is not expected to come into force until 2018 as a formal code of practice now needs to be drafted by the Lord Chancellor’s department. This will outline the process a guardianship application will have to follow and whether it is best tailored to the Court of Protection (as with the current Deputyship process) or the High Court.
The Act does confirm that, once appointed, a guardian (or guardians) will be supervised by the Office of the Public Guardian and will be expected to act in the best interests of the missing person.
This is, hopefully, a very positive and beneficial development for those left to put the pieces together after a loved one’s disappearance.
For more information on the development of Claudia’s Law, please contact Kerry Blackhurst in our Elderly, Care & Mental Capacity team on 01625 442143.