Following a consultation carried out by the Ministry of Justice last year, new legislation has been proposed which would give relatives of missing persons new powers to manage their affairs. The proposals if adopted would create the new legal status of Guardian of property and financial affairs in respect of people designated as being missing persons.
Under the proposals an applicant will be able to apply to the Court to be appointed as Guardian for a missing person as long as they have a “sufficient interest” i.e. a strong connection to the missing person. If an applicant’s interests conflict with those of the missing person then they cannot be appointed to act as their Guardian. Guardians will initially be appointed for a period of four years and this can potentially be extended by a further four years.
Guardians will be able to manage the property and financial affairs of the missing person and must ensure they act in their best interests. They will be able to carry out tasks such as halting direct debits, for example utility and mobile phone bills which are no longer being used and also ensure liabilities are met, for example meeting mortgage payments.
Guardians will be required to submit accounts showing how the assets of the missing person have been dealt with to the Office of the Public Guardian who will supervise and oversee the Guardianship in a similar way to how holders of Lasting Powers of Attorney are supervised.
It remains to be seen when the proposals will become law, but the new regime if adopted certainly appears likely to assist families greatly in dealing with the property and financial affairs of someone who goes missing. Families are often powerless to intervene in the missing person’s finances in their absence and have to watch their affairs fall into disarray. It will of course need to be ensured that sufficient safeguards are put in place to protect the missing person’s assets.
If you need advice on Guardianship issues please contact a member of our Private Client Department who would be happy to assist.
Eastbourne: 01323 727321
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Polegate: 01323 487051
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