A smiling carer chats with an elderly lady

Guardianship of the property of missing persons

This consultation on the Guardianship of the property and affairs of missing persons caught my eye last week.

What happens to the finances of a missing person? According to the charity Missing People, approximately 110,000 adults go missing each year. What happens to their bank accounts, mortgages etc? How do their relatives manage their finances if they do not have access to the missing person’s accounts? Difficulties will arise when bills cannot be paid, such as a jointly held mortgage; or when direct debit payments cannot be cancelled, perhaps for magazine subscriptions or health care, eroding the assets of the person who has gone missing.

This consultation seeks to remedy some of the problems that arise when someone goes missing. Proposals include the appointment of a guardian who will act in the financial best interests of the missing person.

The problems highlighted in the consultation are similar to those experienced when someone loses capacity and has not put a power of attorney in place. Family members will find that payments continue to be made from accounts unchecked and that the assets of the person who lacks capacity are not being managed in the most appropriate manner. As a private client lawyer, I often work with people who have lost capacity to manage their affairs. In the best case scenario (if such a thing exists) they have put in place a power of attorney. If they have not, then often an application needs to be made to the Court of Protection to appoint a deputy. This can be a family member, or sometimes a court appointed panel deputy will be necessary – like my colleague Anthony Fairweather.

When someone loses capacity, their affairs need to be managed for them – operating bank accounts, paying bills etc. This is not an easy task, but it does mean that bills will continue to be paid and life can continue. I often liken powers of attorney to house insurance – you hope your house doesn’t burn down, but you are very glad to have your insurance in place if it does. A little forward planning can save an awful lot of anxiety for families trying to make decisions in the most difficult of circumstances.

The consultation seeks to assist those whose loved ones go missing and its aims are to be applauded. I welcome the proposals as they raise awareness of the problems that are faced by families every day.

For advice about managing the affairs of someone who lacks capacity, please contact a member of our Court of Protection team.