What happens when someone is presumed dead?

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The disappearance of Corrie McKeague, the 23 year old airman who vanished on a night out some 12 months ago, is never far from the news headlines.

His parents have featured in the news both in terms of falling out with each other and for encouraging and requesting that the police continue searching for him. His girlfriend has featured because of her slightly unusual relationship with him and for recently giving birth to his child.

Behind the headlines is a family suffering on a very emotional and personal basis, unable to finally grieve because of the spark of hope that he may not be dead.

The question arises as to what can be done if he is not found. Without a death certificate his bank account will continue to have direct debits and standing orders paid from them, monies may be going in which need to be accessed by his family. Pension payments or death in service payments may not be made without the production of a death certificate.

The presumption of Death Act 2013 came in to force in October 2014. Anyone can apply to the High Court for a declaration that the person is not known to have been alive for at least the last seven years or that they are thought to be dead.Whilst anyone can apply for the court to make a declaration of presumed death if the applicant is not the spouse, civil partner, parent, child or sibling of the missing person they have to persuade the court that they have a sufficient interest in the determination of the application.

In 2018 the Guardianship (Missing Persons) Act 2017 should be implemented. A guardian can be appointed to act in the best interests of the missing person, provided that they have been missing for more than 90 days. The appointment lasts for four years but is then renewable. The guardian will be supervised by the Office of the Public Guardian and will be able to deal with the missing person’s monies including passing them to others.

50-300 appointments per annum are anticipated, which actually appears to be a relatively small number of appointments when compared to the estimated 360,000 reports of missing people per annum of whom 200,000 actually are missing.

The implementation of the act in 2018 will go some way to providing practical assistance to families of those who go missing, hopefully preventing additional stress such as unpaid bills, unpaid mortgages and so on, adding to a very emotional and uncertain period.