A law named after missing chef Claudia Lawrence from York is being introduced to help families take over the affairs of loved ones who have disappeared.
Usually called "Claudia’s law", the Guardianship (Missing Persons) Act 2017 will create a special legal status to allow someone to be appointed as guardian of the affairs of a missing person.
It means families can act in the missing person's best financial interests after they have been missing for 90 days or longer (less in case of urgency) - such as suspending direct debits for bills, ensuring debts do not accumulate and making mortgage payments in order to avoid the distress of properties being repossessed and businesses being ruined.
Peter Lawrence, Claudia’s Father and Consultant at Ware & Kay Solicitors has been at the forefront of the campaign which has led to the passing of the Guardianship (Missing Persons) Act 2017, (backed by the charity Missing People) which has addressed a gap in the law that needed closing.
Previously, when a person went missing, their family had no legal right to step in to manage their financial affairs unless the person was declared dead. It piled emotional pressure and stress upon people already struggling with the absence of a loved one and this new law has been welcomed.
The law will come into force on 31st July, 2019.
It is now possible for the High Court to appoint a guardian to manage the property and finances of a person. The guardianship lasts for up to 4 years and can be renewed for further periods of up to 4 years. The Guardian will be able to make decisions which are in the best interests of the missing person based on numerous factors set out in the new law.
The Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) will supervise those making decisions for missing persons in much the same way as they currently do for those who lack mental capacity to manage their own affairs.
Peter Lawrence said: “This will make such a difference to the lives of the hundreds of families who have been waiting so long for it, enabling them to deal with their missing loved one’s financial and property affairs in the same way as everyone else is able to on a daily basis. It will remove a huge burden at a time when families are at their emotional lowest ebb and this will help enormously”.
Emma Elwess, Director said “This is a triumph for all family members who have campaigned and shows why guardianship is needed. The sudden absence of a family member or friend is devastating and this law will mean that families who face the emotional distress of the disappearance of a loved one will not be blocked from handling the financial and legal affairs as they come to terms with the situation they are facing. If you need advice, we would be more than happy to speak over the telephone or we can arrange to meet you at your home or a place of your choice to help identify areas where we could provide help and assistance.”
Ware & Kay (with offices in York, Wetherby & Malton) is one of a limited number of Solicitors who are specialists in the law surrounding missing people, guardianship, court of protection & presumption of death and can support families in the most empathetic way in applying the new law. If you think that we can provide you with some help and support you through these legal and financial issues, then please telephone us on York 01904 716000 , Wetherby 01937 583210 or Malton 01653 692247 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.