What Claudia’s law means when someone is missing
Posted on 27th April 2021
Claudia Lawrence, a chef at York University, went missing in 2009. In these circumstances the rule is that someone will be presumed dead when they have been missing for seven or more years.
Claudia’s father, Peter, Kevin Hollinrake MP, and the charity Missing People, campaigned for this rule to be changed. They argued that the family and friends of a missing person should be able to deal with their property and financial affairs before seven years have passed.
In July 2019 a new law was passed for England and Wales which is unofficially known as ‘Claudia’s law’ to create a legal status of ‘guardian’ for the affairs of a loved one who is missing for 90 days or more.
What difference does Claudia’s law make?
When someone is missing, even if they have made a Will, it won’t come in to effect until they are presumed dead. In the meantime, their family might have to deal with insolvency applications, mortgage repossessions, and creditors, as well as the emotional impact of their disappearance. The seven-year rule means that many things can’t be resolved for a long time.
Under the new law the guardian of a missing person has the power to:
contact the missing person’s bank and to stop direct debits or standing orders
pay outstanding bills
manage financial support for their family
sell their property
enter in to deeds on their behalf.
The guardian can continue in this role for up to four years, or longer if they wish and if the Office of the Public Guardian agrees.
How to apply to be a guardian
An application to be a guardian under Claudia’s law must be made to the Chancery or Family division of the High Court. The person applying must provide evidence to show that someone has been missing for at least 90 days. They will also need to provide a witness statement to explain why it is in the best interests of the missing person for the court to make an order.
Are there problems with Claudia’s law?
Under this legislation, the priority is what will be in the best interests of the missing person. Before an order is granted the court will consider:
the relationship of the person applying to be a guardian to the missing person
the suitability of the guardian to carry out the role
whether there is any conflict of interest between the guardian and the missing person.
The order can be revoked if the guardian reasonably believes the person is no longer missing or if the court considers it’s no longer in the missing person’s best interests for the order to apply.
The first possible issue is how the guardian of a missing person can know that their actions would be what they would wish. A Will would indicate their intentions, even if they can’t yet be formally followed.
While over 175,000 people are reported as missing each year over 80% return within 24 hours and only between 2% and 5% stay away for more than a week. However, this still means that a large number of applications will be submitted and it might take some time to receive an order from the already busy court system.
Because we never know what’s going to happen tomorrow, writing a Will helps your family and friends understand your wishes.
If you haven’t yet made your Will and would like some advice please get in touch.
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