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Presumption of Death Act 2013 – April 2013

On 26 March 2013 the Presumption of Death Bill received Royal Assent and became law. Generally welcomed after years of campaigning, and supported by the charity ‘Missing People’, the Act should help make life easier for those families struggling with the trauma of having a loved one go missing. It simplifies the previously complex and disjointed procedures to declare a missing person officially dead and deal with practical issues and their affairs.

Common law presumes that a person is dead if they have been missing for seven years, and this is now incorporated into statute. It is based on the Scottish Presumption of Death Act 1997. Families can apply for a declaration from the High Court that a missing person is deemed to have died, providing that the missing person has not been known to be alive for at least seven years. The court will send a copy of the declaration to the Registrar General for England and Wales when it can no longer be the subject of an appeal.

The declaration will be effective for all purposes. A single certificate will enable relatives to deal with the affairs of the missing person as if they had died, effectively the same as a death certificate. Families will be able to sort out bank accounts, sell property or dissolve a marriage in a straightforward manner in the absence of the missing relative.