The Presumption of Death Act 2013 received Royal Assent earlier this year and will be fully in force by April 2014.
The Act allows the High Court to declare that a missing person is presumed to have died at a particular date and time. In order to make such a declaration, the Court must be satisfied that the person is thought to have died, or that they have not been known to be alive for a period of at least seven years.
Previously, a missing person was presumed alive if their body could not be found. This created significant difficulties for spouses and other family members, who were unable to administer the missing person’s financial and legal affairs without a death certificate.
While there were procedures that could lead to the issuing of a death certificate, these were complex and created added strain for the missing person’s family. The new Act simplifies the law in this area and allows relatives to administer the deceased’s affairs with a presumption, rather than a confirmation, of death.
The Ministry of Justice has also announced plans to create a power of ‘guardianship’, which would allow families to manage a missing relative’s financial affairs, prior to a declaration of presumption of death being made. We await developments, but it is clear that the Act is in itself a significant step forward for families facing this distressing situation.
If you would like more detailed advice on administering a deceased person’s estate, please contact the partner at Hunters having responsibility for your legal matters, or (for new enquiries) please contact a member of our Private Client team.
This article is based on the law as at 19th November 2013. Although we endeavour to ensure that the content is accurate and up to date as at that date, it is designed to provide general guidance only and is not intended to be comprehensive or to constitute professional advice. Specific advice should always be sought, and you should only rely on advice which is given, by reference to particular facts and circumstances.