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Published On: December 6, 2021 | Blog | 0 comments

Presumption of death for missing people

Sadly, 170,000 people are reported missing in the United Kingdom every year. While many of these people may eventually be located, unfortunately some remain missing indefinitely. In those circumstances, the family can be left in limbo without the ability to easily step in to manage the missing person’s legal and financial affairs.

When a person has been missing for a substantial period of time, the Presumption of Death Act 2013 (“the Act”) allows a party to make a claim at Court seeking an order to be made declaring that person as presumed dead. That order and registration of the presumed death then allows the family of the missing person to proceed to apply for a grant of representation, and administer their estate.

The Act requires a spouse/civil partner, parent, child, sibling or person with sufficient interest to the missing person to make the Court claim for the presumption. The missing person must have been missing for 7 years or more without actual evidence of the death, or less than 7 years with evidence that indicated that they had died. Either the claimant or missing person must also have been domiciled in England and Wales or treated it as their home for the year leading up to the claim/date of going missing.

In the recent case of Re P (Presumption of Death) [2021] EWHC 399 (Fam) the Court considered an application made by “C” who was the mother of “P” (the missing gentleman)’s son. P had been missing after a trip to South America with a friend “G”. Both P and G were not heard of after May 2011 and could not be contacted. Searches via local police, social media pleas and reviews of records including bank statements delivered no further information. The evidence showed that this disappearance was out of character for P who had been a devoted father, and had close ongoing relationships with the claimant and his family until the date of last contact.

P had inheritance due from his grandmother’s estate which could not be touched without his authority or his death being recorded to allow his estate to be administered. C made her application so that the inheritance could pass to P’s son via P’s estate.

While the Court considered it was likely that P had died, given the sudden ending of contact and it being out of character for him, there was not enough evidence before the Court to clearly indicate the death. Given the period of time P had been missing for though, the Court was willing to make an order that P was presumed dead 7 years after his last contact. His death was then to be recorded in the Register of Presumed Deaths 7 years from the last text message he sent. P’s family can then proceed to administer his estate and pass the inheritance to P’s son.

This legislation provides an important path for families to be able to deal with the legal and financial issues that remain when a person goes missing. The presumption has been used in such high profile cases as Lord Lucan who had been missing before the legislation was in place and Richey Edwards of the Manic Street Preachers.

Disclaimer: The information on the Anthony Gold website is for general information only and reflects the position at the date of publication. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be treated as such. It is provided without any representations or warranties, express or implied.*

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