Huddersfield Solicitors Back Call For New “Presumed Dead” Law

Thursday 23 February 2012

The government has been urged to change the law to make it easier for families of missing people to deal with their affairs. In a report published on 22nd February, the Commons Justice Select Committee calls for legislation based on Scotland’s 1977 Presumption of Death Act to replace what has been described as a “crazy paving of legislation”.

There is an assumption that someone can be presumed dead if there is no evidence that they have been alive during the previous 7 years.  In fact it is possible to make an application before someone has been missing for 7 years if the facts of the case allow – for example if enquiries were thorough and wide ranging.  But such applications are not always successful and many families are faced with problems of resolving a loved one’s affairs in extremely difficult emotional circumstances, with no clear guidance from the law about what they can and cannot do.  The report says that families trying to administer a missing person’s affairs are left facing a “confusing, costly and emotionally exhausting legal process”.

Sarah Young, Partner with Ridley & Hall Solicitors and a specialist in contentious probate law said ” this is not as isolated a problem as you might think; we act for two local families whose loved ones have gone missing without a trace.  We are doing our best to help but the process is difficult, time consuming and expensive”.

She added “I am currently making an application to court for an order that a missing person is presumed to have died – but if that application is successful it will only resolve one particular issue  – it won’t solve all of the other financial and legal problems that crop up and they will have to be the subject of further applications, which will add to the family’s distress as well as to the time that the process will take and expense”.

Sarah supports the Select Committee’s conclusion: – “The report  calls for legislation based on Scotland’s 1977 Presumption of Death Act to replace the current system and that is the right way forward.  There must be very many families in England and Wales who are suffering in the legal limbo that we have now – the law must be changed.  In the 34 years since Scotland brought its Presumption of Death Act into force only one person has reappeared.  The families of other missing people will be very sadly aware that their loved one is almost certainly dead.  Introducing legislation to help them is an obvious step that the government should take”.

For further information please contact Sarah Young on 01484 538421