On 27 April 2017 the Guardianship (Missing Persons) Act received Royal Assent. This came about following the case of the missing chef Claudia Lawrence. Following her disappearance, her family were dismayed to learn that not only was their loved one missing, but that as the Presumption of Death Act 2013 confirmed that you must wait seven years before registering a missing person as presumed dead, they had no way to step in and deal with Claudia’s affairs. Bills could not be paid and bank accounts could not be accessed by her anxious family.
Claudia’s family were critical of this, and campaigned for the new legislation that now exists; around 250,000 people go missing in the UK every year and Claudia’s was sadly not an isolated case. The new legislation, which will hopefully come into force in 2018, enables the court to appoint a guardian to act for a missing person after they have been confirmed missing for 90 days or more. The term ‘missing persons’ has been widely defined, and someone can be missing if:
- they are absent from their usual place of residence;
- they are absent from their usual day to day activities; and
- their whereabouts are not known enough for them to be contacted; or
- they are unable to make decisions relating to their property or affairs or to communicate such decisions, and being able to do so is beyond their control.
The appointments can last for up to four years and can be extended if necessary. Guardians will be able to sell, let or mortgage property, make investments, recover money, discharge debts, conduct legal proceedings, make gifts and execute deeds. It is likely that the Court of Protection will be dealing with these applications, although this has not yet been officially confirmed.
While the final details have not yet been verified, this Act could bring clarity to a large number of families across the UK, allowing them to act to safeguard the financial affairs of missing loved ones.