It can be incredibly difficult to know what to do for the best when a loved one is missing. Not only will you be dealing with some very complicated emotions, you may also find yourself having to take over a range of practical tasks and responsibilities the missing person has left behind.
If you’ve found yourself in a situation like this, you may be unsure about what rights, if any, you have in regards to dealing with these responsibilities on the missing person’s behalf.
Taking care of children, dependents or pets
If a missing person has left children, other dependents or pets behind, they will obviously need to be cared for in their absence. If the missing person shared responsibility for these dependents with another adult, that adult will then be responsible for the sole care until such a time as the missing person returns.
However, if the missing person was the sole carer for their children, pets or other dependents, someone will need to step in to help. Depending on the kind of dependents, as a loved one you may or may not have the right to do this.
If children have been left unaccompanied by the missing person, the police may need to get involved in order to make sure the children are in a safe situation. This may mean ensuring the children are in the care of a family member sure as a grandparents, aunt or uncle. Alternatively, it may mean temporarily placing the children in a foster home or residential facility. Social services will also need to get involved to assess whether the actions taken are in the best interests of the children. Depending on how long the person is missing for, if you wish to take responsibility for the children of a missing person, you may need to apply to social services to be appointed as their legal guardian.
If the missing person had caring responsibilities, a replacement will need to be found while they are away. In most cases, as a family member or close friend of the missing person and the person they care for, you will be able to step in without any legal requirements, though you may need to get advice from a GP, the local council and social services.
Pets will need to be cared for by a friend or family member. If this is really not an option, a local animal charity may be able to advise on how to proceed.
Taking care of property and finances
When someone goes missing, they often leave behind property that needs to be cared for and finances that need to be managed. This is an important responsibility as if it is not done properly it can have consequences later on. Even something as simple as an unpaid utility bill can cause a significant problem further down the line if it is not dealt with.
If the missing person held accounts jointly with another person – such as their spouse or civil partner – that other person will be able to manage the accounts in their absence.
If the missing person held accounts and/or property that was not in joint names, this will be much more difficult to manage on their behalf. Even a spouse or civil partner will not always have the authority to step in in these situations.
Every situation is different, but in many cases you not automatically have the right to manage a missing person’s affairs on their behalf while they are away. In these cases, the only way to ensure their interests are being properly managed and cared for will be to apply to be appointed as their guardian.
Applying for guardianship
Guardianship orders for missing people are a relatively new provision, brought in as part of the Guardianship (Missing Persons) Act 2017, also known as ‘Claudia’s Law’. When you are appointed as a guardian for a missing person, you will be given the authority to manage their affairs on their behalf while they are missing.
In order to apply to be a guardian, you will need to be over 18 and have ‘sufficient interest’ in the missing person’s affairs. Usually, you will need to be a close family member, but in some cases more distant family members, unmarried partners, friends, housemates or business partners may be able to apply.
Once you have been awarded a guardianship order, you will have the authority to do things such as:
- Pay bills
- Manage accounts
- Invest money
- Sell, let or remortgage property
- Execute documents
- Manage legal proceedings
As a guardian, you will need to keep clear records of all tasks you have undertaken on the missing person’s behalf. You will also need to be able to demonstrate that all actions were in the missing person’s best interests.
Who can support you?
If you’re dealing with the disappearance of a loved one and you’re not sure what rights you have in their absence, there is support available. The Missing People charity have many resources that you may find useful. You may also benefit from speaking to a solicitor who specialises in missing persons law. A solicitor will be able to advise you on your legal position and held you decide what steps to take next.
How Roche Legal can help
We are reassuring experts who can help you with a wide range of legal matters. Please get in touch if you need legal support with:
- Trusts and Estate Planning
- Probate and Estate Administration
- Contested Probate and Will Disputes
- Powers of Attorney
- Court of Protection matters
- Presumption of Death Applications
- Missing Persons Guardianship Applications
Need further help?
If you would like to discuss these issues further, please contact us.