Many of us will recall the disappearance of 35 year old Claudia Lawrence when she was on her way to work at the University of York in 2009. Claudia has still not been found. Her father, however, has been championing a law which would allow a relative of a missing person to deal with their financial affairs. Named ‘Claudia’s Law’, the Bill has already been backed by MPs in the Commons and will shortly be going to a second reading.
The law as it exists today does not provide for the situation that the Lawrence family and many other families find themselves in, where a loved one disappears and nobody has the required authority to deal with their affairs. As well as the pain and suffering that these families have to endure, they also have to cope with the burden of dealing with many aspects of their loved one’s life, such as payment of rent, bills and insurance. Banks and many other institutions are under strict obligations not to speak to anyone other than the customer about their affairs. Claudia’s Law aims to address this nightmare situation and make it easier for the missing person’s affairs to be managed in their absence.
Whilst the details of the proposed law are yet to be decided, Claudia’s Law would allow a guardian to be appointed on behalf of a missing person when they have been missing for more than 90 days. The guardian would be appointed for a period of up to four years and this period could be renewed by way of a Court application. The appointed guardian would have a duty to act in the best interests of the missing person and the role would be administered by the Office of the Public Guardian (“OPG”).
Under current law, you can appoint somebody to act on your behalf in respect of your property and financial affairs under a Lasting Power of Attorney (“LPA”). Generally, your attorney can only act on your behalf in respect of your property and financial affairs if and when you lose mental capacity. Your attorney can act on your behalf as soon as your LPA has been registered, but only with your consent. In the event that an individual loses mental capacity without having made an LPA, an application to the Court of Protection is required for a suitable Deputy to be appointed to manage that person’s affairs.
Claudia’s Law would plug the gap in the grey area of someone’s prolonged disappearance. A framework clearly exists for the appointment of somebody to manage another’s financial affairs and the OPG has already established a supervisory role in this respect. Many people would question therefore why such a law has not already been introduced. In a world of increasing bureaucracy and strict data protection laws, more and more people are gradually being alerted to the difficulties of dealing with a loved one’s affairs when that person is unable to do so for themself.
Claudia’s Law, if introduced, would be a big step in the right direction to removing some of these difficulties and easing the emotional turmoil experienced by the family of someone who has gone missing.