Claudia's Law - Missing Persons
Updated: Jun 18
When people go missing, of all the things on your mind, the last thing is likely to be what to do with their estate. Until recently the law relating to this was the Presumption of Death Act 2013 (PDA 2013), which required an application to the High Court for a declaration that the missing person is presumed to have died. The declaration is similar to a death certificate and allows next of kin to obtain a grant to then administer their estate.So what about family members that don’t want to give up hope that their loved one has died, or truly believe they are still alive, and instead want to manage their finances in the anticipation that their loved one will return. Imagine having the belief that the person you love is still alive, yet the only way to manage their affairs is to declare they are dead.
You might say, just wait and see if they turn up. But let’s get down to brass tacks and think about practicalities for a moment. If a person is missing, unless you have authority to manage their affairs, you can’t even deal with the simplest of things like managing their bank account and making sure their mortgage payments are made. That could lead to their property being repossessed.
Just consider the increased stress that could lead to. You believe your loved one is alive, you see that their home is about to be taken away by the bank, and the only way you can save the property is to made a declaration that they are dead. Unimaginable.
Claudia Laurence went missing in York in 2009. Her father, Peter, campaigned long and hard for the law to change, and in July 2019 a new law, known as ‘Claudia’s law, came into effect. The Guardianship (Missing Persons) Act 2017 (G(MP)A 2017) allows for a guardian to be appointed to manage the affairs of the missing person.
The new legislation will be a welcome relief for families where someone has gone missing and they need to deal with an urgent matter. It could allow families to deal with simple things such as preventing an account going into overdraft to avoid punitive fees being added. The law even covers hostage situations.
A Code of Practice is available which clearly explains the process for anyone considering applying to become a guardian, and while it’s early days, the expectation is that guardians will be appointed and supervised in a similar way as to when a Deputyship application is made to appoint someone to manage another’s affairs after they have lost mental capacity.
I specifically compared it to Deputyship rather than the appointment of an Attorney with a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA), because unlike with an LPA, here the guardian will likely have to produce reports around the management of the missing person’s affairs. Whilst its adds an extra layer of administration, it provides additional protection for the missing person, who hopefully will one day return.
Like many things in this area of law, dealing with the unimaginable prospect of a missing loved one must be horrendous, but for now Claudia’s law provides some hope that their affairs can be managed in anticipation of their safe return.
This information provided in this article is not intended to constitute legal advice and each matter requires careful consideration in our view by a person fully qualified before decisions are made and before you embark on a certain course of action.
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