The probate system kicks in after a person dies. The trigger is a death certificate by a competent person. If there is a will then an executor implements it. If not, close relatives inherit. But what happens if there is no death certificate?
The person signing the death certificate must have positive proof the person died. If not, their estate could remain in limbo with an administrator managing it ad infinitum. If you believe you are entitled to inherit all or part of the estate of a missing person, then this article is for you.
How to Apply for Presumed Death in England and Wales
The law does automatically assume a missing person died. Someone has to ask a Court to exercise its mind during probate on Southampton, for example. You can apply for a declaration of presumed death by the High Court if one of these two conditions applies:
1… The person has been missing for seven years or more
2… You have valid reasons they vanished in a natural disaster
However, if neither of the above is true, then you still have the option of proving you are a relative with sufficient interest. You won’t have to necessarily be closely related. That said, you will need a birth certificate to prove ‘blood relationship’.
Necessary Conditions to Make a Valid Claim
You will have to meet one of several hurdles to make a valid application:
1…You are the spouse or partner and you live permanently in England or Wales
2… If not, then you have lived in England or Wales for at least one year
AND / OR
3… Your relative regarded England or Wales as their permanent home the day they vanished
4…The person lived in England or Wales for the whole year before they vanished
The fee for the application is currently £528. You may be able to apply for state assistance however this is unlikely to cover a solicitor’s fees.
How to Submit a Valid Claim to the High Court
Download and complete claim form N208 however there is more to it than that. After you submit the form, you have to send a copy to people with a vested interest within seven days. These may include;
1… The missing person’s spouse or civil partner, parents, children and siblings
2… If these are all deceased, then the missing person’s closest known relative
3… Any other known person / organisation with a vested in the estate
You must also advertise your application in the deceased’s local newspaper, remembering to mention the High Court reference number for your application.
What Happens at the High Court Hearing?
You must personally attend the hearing, which will probably be within two months of your application. Your job is to be there and answer any questions. If the High Court agrees with your request you should receive the declaration on the turn, or within a few days.
However, if somebody saw your advertisement or heard about your application and appealed, then that could be another matter …
What Happens if You Are Successful?
If the High Court does issue a declaration of presumed death, then you can ask the General Register Office for a certificate of presumed death after 21 days. It’s up to you to decide what to do after that, now you have a good-as-death-certificate in your hands.