Myths Around Missing People and the 7 Year Rule

The 7 year mark is significant when it comes to missing people.

  • Courts can declare a missing person dead if there is no indication the person has been alive for 7 years.
  • Courts can allow estates to be managed, if there is no indication the person has been alive for 7 years.

But you may be wondering how to get someone declared dead before 7 years. What do you do when there has been a known death or suicide and no body has been found? How to have a funeral without a body?

There are some confusing myths around the 7 year rule that we want to clear up. Sarah Young, Director and Solicitor at Ridley & Hall Solicitors, has written a piece on some of these misunderstandings. If you are looking for guidance on how to get a missing person declared dead before they have been missing for 7 years, Sarah has shared some important things to know.

‘Fake News – Missing People and the 7 year Rule’, by Sarah Young

Fake news

When an adult goes missing they cannot be presumed to have died until 7 years after the date of their disappearance.

Further fake news

After 7 years has passed they are ‘automatically’ presumed to have died.

The Presumption of Death Act

The 7 year ‘rule’ does have some basis in fact – the Presumption of Death Act 2013 does apply where a missing person “has not been known to be alive for a period of at least 7 years” but the Act also makes it clear that an application can also be made where a person who is missing  “is thought to have died”. This means that, for example, in cases where a suicide note is left an application for a declaration of presumed death may be made to the High Court at any point after the disappearance.

The declaration can be obtained in the courts of England & Wales even if the missing person disappeared abroad, as long as certain conditions are met.

Certainly if the police take the view that the missing person has probably died then that will be persuasive evidence. The judge does not need to be satisfied 100% that death has occurred – just that on the balance of probabilities, i.e. more than 50%, it is more likely than not that the missing person has died.

It may be necessary to wait 7 years if there is no clear evidence one way or the other to suggest that the missing person has died. But waiting 7 years does not mean that anyone has an automatic right after that period to resolve their missing loved one’s affairs.  An application still has to be made to Court under the Presumption of Death Act. Very often, waiting 7 years is completely impracticable for a left behind family living in a jointly owned property – or what can be worse, when the property is in the sole name of the missing person and their family faces repossession.

Claudia’s Law

Another option is to apply to become a missing person’s guardian under the Guardianship (Missing Persons) Act 2017 , also known as ‘Claudia’s Law’. This Act enables someone close to the missing person to apply to the High Court for a guardianship order to manage their financial affairs in the hope that they are still alive and will one day return. Interestingly, the Act also applies to hostages held captive abroad. An application can be made after someone has been missing for more than 90 days (or sooner if there is an urgent issue).

The emotional toll of dealing with a loved one’s disappearance is difficult to comprehend. That can often be compounded by the minefield of dealing with the legal and financial implications.  Dealing with a missing person’s overdrawn bank accounts, unpaid mortgages and credit cards can be deeply frustrating and upsetting.

The law can help with these practical issues but only if families understand the options that are available – so myth busting common misunderstandings and knowing that you can get a missing person declared dead before the 7 year rule really matters.

If you require legal help or advice, get in touch with Sarah at Ridley & Hall Solicitors.

Where can I get more information?

We have provided all of our information on Presumption of Death in a PDF form. Click here to download it.

At Missing People we know that the process of getting a missing person declared dead before 7 years can be both daunting and upsetting. We are available if you would like to talk throughout this process, on our 116 000 Helpline. Get in touch, between 9am – 11pm, for free.

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