How Long Before A Missing Person is Declared Dead (And Why)?

Exact Answer: 7 years

Generally, a missing person report has to be filed and submitted when an individual is ‘missing’ for more than 48 hours. This implies that the whereabouts of such an individual is not known to his or her associates, family members, or friends.

After the report is filed, law enforcement officers try to locate the individual. However, after a given time frame, the search has to be abandoned in the absence of new leads or any evidence of foul play. In many such instances, the family may want the missing person to be ‘declared dead’ after a point of time, to claim insurance.

How Long Before A Missing Person is Declared Dead?

The norm for declaring a missing person dead is different in different countries around the world. There are various details that are taken into consideration by law courts before fixing this time frame. A ‘declaration of presumed death’ is filed by the family for very specific reasons like handling the estate left behind by the individual or claiming insurance sums.

Generally, the rule of thumb that is common in the UK, USA, as well as India is 7 years. In most missing person cases, the family or specifically the spouse can demand for the declaration of the individual as ‘presumed’ dead, after a time-lapse of at least 7 years. Thus, these 7 years can be treated as the lower limit of the time spectrum before such a petition can be filed.

In the case of the United States, each of the constituent states has its own specific norms with regard to the filing of the petition. This also extends to the time frame given to the family before the petition can be filed. However, the average remains at least 7 years.

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In the UK, the average is also 7 years. However, the spouse or family members of the missing individual may file the petition if they suspect the individual’s possible demise. This happens in the case of a natural disaster. The key remains the ability of the individual to prove to the law court a sufficient relationship to the missing individual.

Nonetheless, one must remember that special dispensations can always be made in certain special cases. In such situations, the time frame is expedited.

In Summary:

CountryTime Before Filing the Petition
USAAt least 7 years (for most states)
UK7 years (except in the event of a natural disaster)
India7 years

Why Do You Have to Wait This Long Before A Missing Person is Declared Dead?

The law requires the family of the missing individual to wait for a considerable period of time so that the investigations into their whereabouts can be sufficiently carried out. It is important to give law enforcement officers time to investigate the different angles in a case and come to a conclusion.

The given time frame is fixed at 7 years under the presumption that the missing individual might return within these years. However, the same rationale also works to use this as the lower limit for the waiting period. The idea is that if a person does not return within 7 years, the chances of the person’s demise will be higher.

Moreover, according to the law courts, often the burden of proving the death of a missing individual is helmed by the person filing the petition. They have to convince the judge that the individual has died. This makes the process of passing the filed petition even more cumbersome for the family members or spouses of such missing individuals.

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In certain special cases, like in Britain, the family members can file the petition to declare the individual dead if he or she has gone missing as a result of a natural disaster. Such petitions do not need the 7 years of time-lapse as if an individual lost during a natural calamity does not return within a week or two, chances of their demise are extremely high. These petitions can be processed much faster by the courts than the normal ‘declaration of death’ petitions.

Conclusion

The petition filed to pronounce a missing individual dead, on certain grounds of presumption is a common practice in most countries around the world. The rationale for this practice remains that if they are not found within the stipulated time frame, the possibility of their deaths is quite prominent.

A 7-year time period is generally given to allow investigations to be carried out into the case. However, after the lapse of these years, family members are allowed to file petitions to declare the individual dead to divide the estate of the individual, enforce his or her will, or for any other legal purposes.

References

  1. https://www.mcser.org/journal/index.php/ajis/article/view/849
  2. https://academic.oup.com/jicj/article-abstract/12/4/787/2886361

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