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MANAGING THE FINANCIAL AFFAIRS OF MISSING PEOPLE

View profile for Claire Holland
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It is estimated that some 180,000 people run away or go missing each year in the UK.   When a person goes missing, there are huge emotional and practical implications for his or her family members.

A new law which came into effect on 31 July 2019 aims to ease some of the financial and administrative burdens which inevitably face families at such a time. 

Prior to this law being passed, the only way in which the family could manage a missing person’s property and financial affairs would be to have the person declared dead, as a missing person is assumed alive unless proven otherwise.  So, in the absence of a declaration of death, the person’s family was left unable to pay bills, mortgages, or amend direct debits and therefore were left with the possibility of repossessions, arrears and bankruptcy.  As well as missing people, this problem extended to the affairs of those who have kidnapped or held hostage, or were imprisoned abroad with no means of communicating decisions about their property or financial affairs.  

The Guardianship (Missing Person’s) Act 2017 - known as ‘Claudia’s Law’ after Claudia Lawrence who went missing in 2009 - allows a guardian to be appointed to take over the affairs of the missing person and to act in their best interests after the person has been missing for 90 days.  The missing person’s home and assets can therefore be safeguarded and used for the benefit of the missing person and their family members left behind.  

The position of guardian of the property and affairs of a missing person is a new legal status and so there is a comprehensive Code of Practice published by the Ministry of Justice to assist applicants and have regard to it in carrying out their duties.   There are rules defining who can apply and when, what decisions can be made on the person’s behalf and much to consider both in making the application and in acting as guardian.  It would be wise to take legal advice before making an application.  

The passage of this law has the potential to be of great benefit to those families struggling with the implications of the disappearance of a loved one.   

Please contact the Private Client team if you would like to discuss the matters raised above, or with any wider issues concerning Deputyship (for people who are not missing  but do not have mental capacity and have not made a Lasting Power of Attorney).