Was it a gift or was it a loan?
The Guardianship (Missing Persons) Act 2017, more commonly known as ‘Claudia’s Law’, came into force on 31 July 2019 and means that families will now be able to deal with the financial affairs of a missing loved one.
Claudia’s Law was championed by Peter Lawrence OBE, the father of Claudia Lawrence, the 35 year old chef at York University who went missing in 2009.
Before this law was introduced, families had to rely on the Presumption of Death Act 2013 to deal with the financial affairs of a missing loved one. They were required to wait seven years before declaring the missing person as dead in order to deal with their affairs. This was hardly a suitable solution. Seven years is a long time to wait to take care of someone’s affairs and action may need to be taken during that time. Having to declare a missing person as dead adds to the emotional burden at a time when there may still be hope that the missing person is still alive. Claudia’s Law thankfully plugs the gap by allowing a guardian to be appointed to manage the affairs of somebody who has been missing for 90 days or more.
The new law allows a guardian to look after their loved one’s assets, for example contacting banks to stop direct debits and liaising with utility companies to deal with outstanding bills. Guardians will also be able to sell property, make gifts (provided the guardianship order expressly authorises this) and enter into deeds on behalf of the missing person. Appointed guardians will be supervised by the Office of the Public Guardian (much like an attorney acting under a Lasting Power of Attorney) and will be able to manage the affairs of the missing individual for a period of four years, with an option to renew at the end of the period.
Applications need to be made to the Chancery Division or Family Division of the High Court and applicants will have to provide evidence that the person is missing, supporting information to show that the missing individual has not been seen for 90 days and a witness statement explaining why a guardianship order is in the missing person’s best interests.
HMRC has produced a draft Code of Practice which outlines the application process and how guardianship works. It is yet to be approved by Parliament but will no doubt prove helpful to legal advisers and prospective guardians alike.
See Stephanie's earlier blog on this topic: ‘Claudia’s Law’ - helping families take control of a missing relative’s affairs.
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