When a loved one goes missing, the worry and heartache are more than enough to deal with, especially if, despite the best efforts of the police, the press and the family, they remain unfound.
But if the pain for those left behind is compounded by serious practical problems caused by that absence – is there a mortgage, are there bills to be paid, are there children to support – the situation must be extraordinarily difficult.
In recognition of this, new law has been introduced in the shape of the Guardianship (Missing Persons) Act 2017. The law and guidance set out a process by which someone can apply to a court to look after the missing person’s property and money if they have been missing for 90 days before the application is made.
A family member can apply and the court will need to see evidence of all the attempts they have made to appeal for whereabouts of the missing person.
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Then the court will take steps to ensure the property and money that still belongs to the missing person is dealt with in their very best interests. In the first instance, an order will be granted for four years and the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) will be advised that the order has been granted and to whom.
A representative from the OPG will then personally contact the person appointed to discuss the assets involved and the issues that will need to be dealt with. Their role is to follow up and support the person appointed to make sure that nothing happens to the financial assets or property that would not be in the best interest of the person.
This can be very hard to judge for a person who has not done this before and at present, because this is such new law, the OPG are keen to offer a more personal one-to-one service so they can really focus on getting things right.
While the law cannot help with the fear and longing that a loved one going missing can create, at least the option now exists to put family members in a position to look after personal and financial matters for that person and be supported throughout the process, which can only be a good thing.