Reforms to aid 'missing' families
A single certificate declaring someone "presumed dead" should be brought in to help families resolve all the affairs of a missing person, MPs have said.
The current law is a "crazy paving" of different provisions which leaves families facing a "confusing, costly and emotionally-exhausting legal process", the Commons Justice Select Committee said.
The report comes after families of missing people, including a woman whose husband disappeared after a night out in Manchester almost nine years ago, appealed to MPs to reform the law.
Vicky Derrick said she had found it "extraordinarily difficult" to sort out her financial affairs since her husband Vincent vanished in August 2003.
Sir Alan Beith, the committee's chairman, said: "We do not agree with Government ministers who claim the system is working 'adequately'.
"The evidence we have heard from families faced with the problems of resolving these affairs is overwhelming. The law needs to be changed. The Government owes it to these families to look at this issue again very carefully before it responds to our report."
He added: "In some cases missing people have been held to have died in order to dissolve a marriage, while remaining technically alive in the eyes of mortgage lenders and other agencies."
Sir Alan called for legislation to be brought forward for England and Wales in the next parliamentary session, based upon the Scottish Presumption of Death Act 1977.
A new Presumption of Death Act, based on the Scottish model, would only allow families to apply for a presumption of death order after seven years.
The MPs said the Government should introduce so-called guardianship orders to allow families to maintain the person's estate during these years by cancelling direct debits such as gym membership, paying off any debts, and providing maintenance for any dependants.