Following a report by the Commons Select Committee on Justice, plans have been unveiled to introduce a ‘certificate of presumed death’ which should give significantly greater legal rights to the families of missing persons. The new document would have the same legal power as a full death certificate, making it much easier for families to sort out that person’s affairs, including their estate and property assets.
This should aid families with an array of issues surrounding persons missing and presumed dead, including direct debits for matters such as Building Insurance, access to personal banking accounts and the transferral of parts of the estate, including property.
The number of missing persons in the UK now stands at 5500, with an additional 1000 unidentified people, bodies and remains according to the UK Missing Persons Bureau in September 2011.
Justice Minister Jonathon Djanogly is reported to have commented:
“Having a family member disappear, with no trace, will always be a confusing and difficult time for any family to have to go through.
“The changes we are announcing today will ensure that there is a law in place that provides a simple legal framework by which families of missing people can receive the appropriate guidance and tackle the problems they face in a straightforward way.”
The report that sparked these changes contained other suggestions still under review, including introducing legal guardianship for missing persons at an early stage which the Government is currently discussing with the Law Commission.
Sir Alan Beith, the Lib Dem MP for Berwick-upon-Tweed, who chairs the committee, said of the proposed certificate:
“Families of missing people are currently confronted with a confusing, costly and emotionally exhausting legal process if they want to resolve the affairs of a loved one.
“In some cases missing people have been held to have died in order to dissolve a marriage, while remaining technically alive in the eyes of mortgage lenders and other agencies.”
The changes could therefore have a substantial effect on the legal process surrounding missing persons, with the hope that the matter will become simpler and more efficient. Such changes should be taken into account by all notaries and lawyers involved in probate proceedings, with the possibility of more to come in the future.