Guardianship Law for Missing People a Step Closer
In news that will delight campaigners, the Ministry of Justice announced on 23rd March that it will support new legislation in the next parliament to help relatives of missing people to safeguard their financial affairs.
Public awareness of the legal and financial issues that can arise when someone goes missing was raised last year following the introduction of the Presumption of Death Act 2013 in England and Wales on 1st October 2014. The Act enables families to apply for a certificate of presumed death when a loved one has gone missing and it is thought that they have died. The certificate enables the missing person’s affairs to be resolved because they can then apply for a grant of probate (which can normally only be obtained if there is a death certificate).
Campaigners including the charity Missing People and Peter Lawrence, the father of Claudia Lawrence, have long argued that, in addition, a guardianship system is essential to enable families to manage their loved one’s assets when they are missing, but not presumed dead. There is no time now for this reform to be introduced before the election but the Ministry of Justice is promising to support the legislation in the next parliament and the Justice Minister, Lord Faulks QC says: – “When someone suddenly disappears, their affairs can be thrown into disarray, adding to the distress and emotional heartbreak experienced by family members. [These] measures will give legal powers to families, allowing them to take charge of their missing family member’s property and financial affairs.”
If the measures are introduced they will enable a guardian to be appointed by a court following an application by a person with a sufficiently close interest in the property and affairs of the missing person. They would act in a similar way to an attorney or a trustee; being responsible for managing the missing person’s affairs in their best interests in the hope that they will one day return.
The proposals for a guardianship system were developed with the help of Missing People and Clifford Chance Solicitors. Susannah Drury, the Director of Policy for Missing People says: – “These families have been powerless to stop the lives that they hope their missing loved ones will return to from falling apart … We’re thrilled that this first step has been taken to avoid families being put in this terrible position in the future.”
Sarah Young specialises in cases involving missing people and has long supported the guardianship proposals: – “Sadly I often see families at the end of their tether having been powerless to prevent a missing person’s property being repossessed or bank charges being applied. Individuals in financial organisations are often sympathetic but the law has simply not allowed them to help. The frustration and distress caused is incalculable.”
She adds: – “It’s very positive that the Ministry of Justice has said that it will support legislation – this is not a party political issue and I hope that the next government will be supportive of this much needed new law.”
Sarah Young is a Partner with Ridley & Hall solicitors in Huddersfield. She specialises in Court of Protection and contentious probate cases. She has a particular interest in cases involving missing people and supports the work being done by the charity Missing People.
For further information please contact Sarah Young of Ridley & Hall, Queens House, 35 Market Street, Huddersfield HD1 2HL on her direct dial 01484 558838 or her mobile 07860 165850.