Families of missing people could be given the ability to take control of, and safeguard, their loved one’s affairs, the Ministry of Justice has announced.
The proposed legislation would enable family members to suspend direct debits for utility bills and phone bills, and also ensure that other financial commitments are honoured such as mortgage payments.
Under existing law, a person must be declared dead before any family can make alternative arrangements. This can create a situation where property is essentially abandoned, and if the missing person had dependents they can be left without any financial provision.
Under the proposed legislation, family members can apply to be appointed as official guardians of the missing person. They will have to comply with the following requirements:
- They will be required to act in the best interests of the missing person and in this respect will be subject to duties similar to those of a trustee
- They will be supervised by the Office of the Public Guardian and will be required to file accounts in much the same way as a Deputy appointed under the Mental Capacity Act 2005
- They will be appointed by a court on application by a person with a sufficient interest—the appointment may be general (in which case the guardian will be able to do what the missing person could have done) or limited
- Anyone should be able to apply for appointment as guardian provided he or she has a sufficient interest, but his or her interests must not conflict with those of the missing person
- The appointment can be for up to four years with the possibility of applying for an extension for up to another four years.
The proposals were developed by the MoJ with the help of the charity Missing People. Susannah Drury, the Director of policy for Missing People, said:
“These families have been powerless to stop the lives that they hope their missing loved ones will return to from falling apart.”
“Imagine the heartache you’d feel if someone you loved went missing. Now imagine watching the life you hope they will return to fall apart and being powerless to help. We’re thrilled that this first step has been taken to avoid families being put in this terrible position in the future.”