Claudia's Law - managing a missing person's financial affairs
Despite an intense and ongoing police operation, Claudia Lawrence has not been seen since she went missing in 2009. In addition to the heartache Claudia's disappearance has caused her family, they discovered that there is no legal mechanism in place for them to deal with her financial affairs while she remains a missing person. They have been campaigning ever since for this gap to be closed.
We often recommend clients prepare a Lasting Power of Attorney to ensure a person of their choosing is appointed to deal with their affairs if they become physically or mentally unable to do so. But what Claudia's family quickly realised when trying to navigate her affairs in her absence, is that when a person is missing, there is no equivalent mechanism to allow the family to step in and manage their loved one's affairs. As banks and other financial institutions are under strict legal obligations not to discuss their customer's affairs with anyone else, until the person is found, their affairs – including rent, mortgage, bills and insurance - are left in limbo.
The solution put forward by the Lawrence family, and backed by the charity Missing People, is to introduce a law that would enable a missing person's next of kin to apply to court for a guardianship order to manage their financial affairs. This idea became the Guardianship (Missing Persons) Bill (popularly known as "Claudia's Law") which successfully passed second reading in the House of Commons on Friday 3rd February. It will now pass to Committee stage for scrutiny. If passed without amendments, it would allow a guardianship application to be made once an adult has been missing for 90 days. The appointed guardian would then be able to act on behalf of the missing person for up to four years, it could be renewed by a court application, and they would be held to account by the Office of the Public Guardian.
The proposed law would undoubtedly ease the strain on the families of missing persons at an already-difficult time, and would therefore seem a welcome addition to the statute books. I will follow its progress through Parliament with interest.
By preparing a Lasting Power of Attorney, you can think carefully about who you would like to appoint to manage your affairs, such as family members, trusted friends, or sometimes professionals. Blake Morgan also sees the problems that can be caused when a power of attorney is not in place. It requires a deputyship application to the Court of Protection, which can be costly and leaves the person's affairs on hold until the deputy is appointed.
For further information about managing a loved one's affairs or for advice on making Lasting Powers of Attorney, please contact a member of the Succession and Tax team.