Wills – what happens if someone is missing?

Year Published: 2013

When a person makes a will, the will does not take effect until the person has died. This is usually evidenced by a death certificate and then the persons named as executors will assume authority over the deceased’s affairs by extracting a Grant of Probate.  Even when a person dies without a will, family members can apply for letters of administration but what happens when a person goes missing?

Under the current law, the family of the missing person does not have authority to deal with their affairs until the missing person is presumed dead. This can take years causing many financial problems on top of the stress of dealing with the anguish of a missing loved one.

In response to the number of families who are effectively in limbo, the government has stepped in to establish ‘The Presumption of Death Act’ which received Royal Assent in May 2013. It was the first stage in the government’s proposals to provide better support for families of missing people. Hence, a legal framework has now been set up for families of the missing person to obtain a certificate of presumed death, which is designed to help them deal with any legal or financial issues arising and is intended to be an equivalent to a death certificate.

In addition, the second stage is to fill the gap between the person going missing and being presumed dead. The intention is that the new laws will create a temporary ‘guardianship’ status so that the guardian can manage the property and affairs of the missing person during those initial months. This will be similar to a property and financial lasting power of attorney and should make paying bills and cancelling direct debits less difficult.   The launch of the consultation will be later this year with a view to a final decision being made in April 2014.

For more information on wills and lasting powers of attorney, please contact our wills and wealth planning team on 01625 442148.

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