“Guardians” Proposed for Missing People’s Finances
It is hard enough when someone you love goes missing without having to worry about what is happening to the life you hope they will return to.
Sadly, when a person disappears it is too often the case that their bills go left unpaid and their mortgage payments slide. This is because the person who would normally pay them, after all, isn’t around to take care of them and no one else can take them over without prior permission. So what happens when that person makes their way back home? The life they knew is no longer around them, and their finances are left in a chaotic state.
But now it has been proposed that relatives could be able to take care of the legal affairs and finances of a missing loved one if that person has been missing for more than 90 days.
This so-called “guardian” will be appointed to managed the missing person’s affairs for up to four years. After this time, if the person is still missing, the guardian will able to apply for an extension of a further four years. However, the guardian will not be able to run through the finances unchecked as they will be held accountable for their actions to a supervisory board, so while some people may be worried that the potential legislation could result in fraudulent behaviour, this is unlikely to be the case.
“The sudden disappearance of a loved one, perhaps without any obvious explanation, is a traumatic event for even the most resilient,” stated Justice Minister Lord Faulks. He explained that while the emotional distresses of such a situation might be obvious, there are also practical consequences to take in account. “We are considering the creation of a status of guardian of the property and affairs of a missing person to help enable these problems to be solved.”
From October 1, a new Presumption of Death Act will also be fully implemented, in which relatives will be able to apply to the High Court for a Certificate of Presumed Death if a person has been missing for seven or more years. Legislation like this is already in place in Northern Ireland and Scotland, and would mean the missing person’s property being passed to others as though they had been certified died.
Susannah Drury, director of policy and advocacy for Missing People, explained that the charity is often contacted by families who are legally unable to step in to look after their missing loved one’s finances and property. “This is why Missing People has been campaigning for guardianship to enable families to protect a missing loved one’s life in their absence,” she said, “and we are delighted that the government has launched a consultation on introducing it.”
If the guardianship proposals are accepted, then England and Wales will have safeguards in place for the relatives of missing people for if they don’t make it home, and for the many who do, giving families that little bit extra peace of mind.