Presumption of Death Bill Becomes Law

 In Contentious probate, Inheritance & will disputes, Samantha Hirst, Sarah Young

A new law has come into force that offers hope to families of those who have gone missing. The Presumption of Death Bill received Royal Assent on 26th March and is now an Act of Parliament which will help families struggling to deal with the financial legal affairs of a loved one who has disappeared.

Every year more than 2,000 people disappear for more than 12 months – many of them never return. “Missing People” campaigns and supports families of those who have gone missing.  Jo Youle, Chief Executive of  “Missing People” said “This is a momentous day for everyone who has campaigned for, and supported, the reform of presumption of death law.  We are delighted that families facing the unimaginable pain of having a missing loved one will now have access to a fair and effective system”.

The Act establishes a presumption of death law similar to the law that exists in Northern Ireland and Scotland.  The aim of the legislation is to simplify and to bring into one place a “crazy paving” of statutory provision that currently governs the legal processes that families have to negotiate to obtain an order that a missing person is presumed dead.  Only once that order is obtained, at present, can a grant of probate be applied for and the missing person’s estate dealt with on the basis that they are presumed dead. The new Act will provide for a Certificate of Presumed Death and  should make it much more straight forward for a family member to seek a declaration from the High Court that a missing person is deemed to have died.

It is likely that there will be some 30–40 declarations sought in England and Wales every year and the court will have wide powers to deal with the complicated issues that arise. Guidance is currently awaited to help solicitors and families who need to make an application under the Act.

The Act however does not enable families to manage and maintain a missing person’s affairs on the basis that they might return.  During the initial period of a disappearance families very understandably, do not want to assume that their loved one has died and during this period there is currently no statutory provision for helping families.
Ann Coffey, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Runaway and Missing Children and Adults is aware of the gap in the law and said “We will now continue to campaign for a legal guardianship, which would help relatives to cope with the complicated financial and practical affairs of a relative who has been missing for a short period of time.  The daily frustration of trying to deal with things like mortgage and insurance payments and bank accounts all adds to the stress and heartache of the families left behind”.
Sarah-Young1Sarah Young,  Partner at Ridley & Hall Solicitors in Huddersfield who specialises in dealing with the affairs of missing people said :

“I am currently acting for 4 families who are seeking a leave to swear death order.  It has been a deeply traumatic and stressful experience for them all and I hope that in the future the process will be made much easier and cheaper.  The emotional stress of coping with the disappearance of a loved one is enormous and families need all the help that they can get”.
Sarah Young is a Partner with Ridley & Hall Solicitors. She specialises in contentious probate and personal injury. Sarah has an LLM in Personal Injury Law and has a record of bringing the most complex cases to a successful conclusion.

For further information please contact Sarah Young of Ridley & Hall, Queens House, 35 Market Street, Huddersfield HD1 2HL on 01484 538421 or mobile 07860 165850.