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'Presumed Dead' Certificate Planned To Help Families Of Missing Persons

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The certificate could help families sort out affairs of missing persons
The certificate could help families sort out affairs of missing persons

A certificate declaring someone as "presumed dead" is to be brought in to help families resolve the affairs of a missing person, ministers said today.

It comes after MPs and campaigners criticised the current laws as a "crazy paving" of different provisions which leaves families facing a "confusing, costly and emotionally-exhausting legal process".

The Missing People charity welcomed the move, adding that it wanted the government to identify the "parliamentary time to make this legislation happen".

The presumption of death certificate would be equivalent to a death certificate in its legal power, the Ministry of Justice said.

Justice minister Jonathan Djanogly said: "We recognise the emotional rollercoaster faced by families who are left behind.

"Having a family member disappear, with no trace, will always be a confusing and difficult time for any family to have to go through.

"The changes we are announcing today will ensure that there is a law in place that provides a simple legal framework by which families of missing people can receive the appropriate guidance and tackle the problems they face in a straightforward way."

Clear guidance on how to deal with the affairs of a missing person will also be prepared following recommendations from MPs on the Commons Justice Select Committee, an MoJ spokeswoman said.

The government is also considering the MPs' call for so-called guardianship orders to allow families to maintain the person's estate during these years by cancelling direct debits such as gym membership, paying off any debts, and providing maintenance for any dependants, she said.

The committee's report in February dismissed the government's suggestions that the current system was working adequately.

Families of missing people, including a woman whose husband disappeared after a night out in Manchester almost nine years ago, appealed to MPs to reform the law.

Vicky Derrick said she had found it "extraordinarily difficult" to sort out her financial affairs since her husband, Vincent, vanished in August 2003.

Martin Houghton-Brown, chief executive of the Missing People charity, said: "We are delighted with the support that the Ministry of Justice is showing for legislation on presumption of death, and look forward to them identifying parliamentary time to make this legislation happen.

"This announcement shows significant intention to work towards a better future for families of missing people, representing huge step towards easing their heartache with clear legislative guidance."

A presumption of death certificate is already in place in Scotland.