Handling the Legal Affairs of a Missing Person

A missing loved one can be an incredibly upsetting and stressful time for the individuals left behind. Not only that, but the property of the missing person is left behind for their loved ones to deal with also. 

What to do first? 

Once you have reported the person missing to the police check if the person has an immediate financial power of attorney, so they can handle the person’s legal affairs right away.   

If this power of attorney can be located, and if its authority is broad enough, the named agent can use the document to take steps on the missing person’s behalf to access any existing cash accounts, pay bills, request a hold on payments or other bills pending the outcome of the investigation, and handle the missing person’s other similar day-to-day responsibilities. 

If there is no financial power of attorney you may need to have a conservator appointed through the state court system in the missing person’s county of residence. Similar to a power of attorney, a conservatorship grants someone the authority to handle the financial and legal affairs of the missing person. Depending on the State , a specified period of time must elapse before a conservator is sought and there must be evidence of real effort to locate the missing person.

In addition to allowing someone to handle the personal affairs of the missing person, a conservatorship also allows the conservator to access accounts, sell property, and otherwise obtain funds to help with actions such as hiring a private investigator to assist law enforcement in the effort to locate the missing person.

Making a Determination of Death

When it becomes clear that the missing person will probably not be found, it is time to seek a determination of death through the court system. In many states, the individual must have been missing for at least five years; in other states, the time may be longer. The person seeking the determination of death must typically demonstrate to the court, that all reasonable efforts have been made to locate the missing person and that those efforts have nevertheless failed. 

The death certificate will then allow the missing person’s loved ones to begin the probate or trust administration process and collect benefits from insurance, retirement plans, bank accounts, and employers. It will also allow the missing person’s legal representative to close accounts and cancel memberships and utilities, etc. 

Estate & Trust Administration

After obtaining a death certificate for the missing person, the successor trustee of the missing person’s trust can take control of the  property and determine how it will be handled and distributed. Depending on whether the person had a will or not the successor trustee will be appointed through the court system. If on the rare occasion, the person is found alive after many years, the person may be able to claim back property that has been distributed, by this varies from state to state. 

In any case, you should consult with a competent estate attorney to determine the state law requirements for handling the property issues of a missing person. If you need assistance with handling the affairs of a missing loved one, feel free to give Music City Estate Law in Franklin, TN a call.

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