When a family member or loved one goes missing the obvious reaction is of fear, upset and grief but the practical problems such a disappearance throws up have long been overlooked.
Dealing with the financial and other affairs of someone who is missing can cause untold additional emotional harm to those still searching.
This article explains what can be done to help those left behind to manage as best they can if someone goes missing.
The disappearance of 35 year old chef Claudia Lawrence, in 2009 was one of the fundamental events behind the coming into force of the Guardianship (Missing Persons) Act 2017 known as “Claudia’s Law”. Claudia Lawrence went missing in March 2009 and although the Police believed she was murdered her body has never been found.
Prior to this legislation, there was no mechanism to deal with the financial affairs of a missing person unless they were declared dead under the Presumption of Death Act 2013. This legislation then allowed families to handle the affairs of a missing person. A declaration of presumed death can only be applied for where a person has been missing for 7 years.
The implementation of Claudia’s Law allows family members to deal with their loved one’s financial affairs when a person has been missing for 90 days or more.
Under the Guardianship (Missing Persons) Act 2017, a relative over 18 or a suitable qualified professional is able to apply to the High Court for guardianship using a ‘Part 8 Claim Form’. It allows a suitable guardian to be appointed and act in the best interests in dealing with their loved one’s affairs for up to 4 years. The appointment can be renewed. If someone goes missing family members will be at their wits end looking for that person and hoping for news. Allowing someone to take over the practical aspects of daily life can help tremendously.
To be appointed as a Guardian by the Court certain criteria must be fulfilled. The applicant would need to prove that their family member has been missing for at least 90 days and must also persuade the Court that they will be able to act in the best interests of their missing loved one. At this stage the Court can consider any potential conflicts and determine the most suitable person to oversee the missing person’s property and financial affairs.
Whilst the person appointed as the Guardian will not own the missing person’s property and belongings, they will have full power over their assets and can make financial decisions.
Prior to the 2017 Act the law did not provide an instrument for anyone to undertake a loved one’s administrative tasks when they had gone missing. Claudia’s Law assists by reducing the stress for those in such unimaginable situations as family members do not have to spend years in limbo and battle the unknown.
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