The Government is to introduce legislation to help families of missing persons deal with financial issues such as paying the mortgage by allowing them to apply for a presumption of death certificate so they can exit the current financial “legal limbo” which can last up to seven years.
The private members’ Civil Law (Missing Persons) Bill 2013 was debated in the Seanad yesterday after being introduced by Cork senator Colm Burke.
Mr Burke told the Irish Examiner that the bill was to provide for families, such as those of missing fishermen, who encounter immediate problems such as how to pay utility bills because the current law denies them access to the missing person’s bank accounts.
The legislation will allow the family left behind to apply to the courts after 90 days to allow for the interim management of the missing person’s property.
“As the law presently stands, in cases where a person remains missing, and it is clear from all evidence available that they have died, there is no legal procedure available to allow for their estate to be managed,” he said.
He said the bill puts in place a statutory framework which would provide for the presumption of death order in respect of two categories of missing persons.
The first is where the circumstances of the disappearance indicate that death is virtually certain. The second is where both the circumstances and the length of the disappearance indicate that it is highly probable that the missing person has died and will not return. Mr Burke said search agencies such as the coastguard would be required to give evidence before the courts and obviously the bank accounts and passport of those missing would be examined to ensure there was no activity.
He said at present the families of missing people have to wait seven years before a death certificate is issued which allows them to manage the missing person’s estate.
The bill is based on recommendations of the Law Reform Commission which earlier this year recommended a statutory framework to deal with practical problems for loved ones left behind.
Almost 8,000 people go missing in Ireland every year but 99% are accounted for within a short period of time.
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