The Guardianship (Missing persons) Act 2017 received royal assent on the 27th April 2017 .
This new act aptly nicknamed ‘Claudia’s Law’ arose from the case of Claudia Lawrence who disappeared on her way to work at the University of York in 2009. Her family tirelessly campaigned for legislation that would alleviate some of the stress endured by the families of missing persons.
It is estimated that 1% of the 250,000 people who go missing from the UK every year remain missing for more than a year.
Families not only have to deal with the trauma and stress of missing their loved one, but they have the ongoing stress of struggling to manage the property and financial affairs of the missing person.
Presently under the Presumption of Death Act 2013 the missing person’s spouse, civil partner, parent, sibling or child is required to wait at least 7 years or provide proof that the missing person ‘is thought to have died’ before they can apply for a ‘Declaration of presumed dead’. The 7 year wait has been strongly criticised as too long a period bringing the families’ additional anxiety as they were continuously battling to continue to manage matters in their absence.
Under this new Act, which only covers England and Wales, one or more applicants can apply to the court for a ‘Guardianship Order’ to manage the property and financial affairs of the missing person after they have been confirmed missing for more than 90 days. The order lasts for up to 4 years and can be renewed on expiry. It is hoped that the 4 year period will allow the family long enough to manage the affairs. The Ministry of Justice predict between 50 and 100 Guardianship Order applications will be made each year.
Under Section 6 (4) of the Act the Guardian shall be granted such powers and rights to sell, let or mortgage the missing person’s property; executing deeds and other documents; recovering monies owed to the missing person; discharging debts and other obligations of the missing person; resigning trusteeships held by the missing person; making a gift out of the missing person’s property. Additionally, the Act allows businesses and the government a quick and reliable way of establishing whether a Guardian has the right to information concerning the missing person with a person to contact should any issues arise. It is yet to be confirmed whether the Public Guardian will keep a detailed record of Guardianship Orders.
Certain restrictions do apply to Guardians under the Act, for example a Guardian will not have the right to execute a Will on behalf of the missing person and the court may impose certain restrictions and conditions to the Guardianship Order. Nevertheless the Act provides the power for the missing person’s family to manage their affairs in their absence.
It is predicted that the Act will come into force within the next 12 months and the progress of the act can be followed at: http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2016-17/guardianshipmissingpersons.html