Practical matters

How to manage the affairs and finances of a missing person.

When someone is missing and an investigation is carried out, there are several things that may need to be taken care of on behalf of the missing person. This is particularly the case if you’re the missing person’s next of kin.

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Financial and Estate Management

As a next of kin, you may become liable for the missing person’s financial affairs. If the missing person hasn’t appointed a financial power of attorney or executor, it can be difficult to deal with their financial and estate management in their absence.

When a relative is missing for an extended period, managing the financial affairs of the missing person is an important consideration. Legal advice should be sought about matters such as life insurance, superannuation, their will, property management, and trust funds. In some states there are specific processes through which the affairs of a missing person can be managed.

Relevant legislation in some States and Territories provides a scheme for the management of financial affairs and property of a missing person. In these States, a ‘manager’ or ‘administrator’ may be appointed with the authority to make decisions about the financial affairs and property of the missing person.

State and Territory Legislation:

ACT
Guardianship and Management of Property Act 1991 – Amendments to this legislation became effective on 6 September 2007. The legislation now allows for an application to be lodged to the Guardianship and Management of Property Tribunal of the Magistrate’s Court to have someone appointed as ‘manager’ to the property of a missing person in the ACT.

NSW
Protected Estates Act 1983 – Amendments to this legislation became effective on 17 December 2004. This legislation enables an application to be made to the Supreme Court to have someone appointed to manage the estate of a missing person.

VIC
Safe Keeping – a guide to managing the affairs of missing persons explains how families and friends can manage a missing person's financial and legal affairs. The guide was developed by the Bendigo based Loddon Campaspe Community Legal Centrein partnership with the Missing Persons Advocacy Network.

QLD
For information on dealing with missing persons estates in Queensland, the Caxton Legal Centre has produced a guide, Missing Persons Information on what to do when family or friends go missing in Queensland.

NT, SA, TAS and WA
Although the precise terms vary, provisions exist which allow for the Public Trustee to become the administrator of ‘unclaimed property’ in the Northern Territory, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania and Western Australia, as follows:

  • Northern Territory – Public Trustee Act (NT), s 58
  • Queensland – Public Trustee Act 1978 (Qld), s 104
  • South Australia – Public Trustee Act 1995 (SA), s 34
  • Tasmania – Public Trustee Act 1930 (Tas), s 25
  • Western Australia – Public Trustee Act 1941, s 37A.

Disclaimer: This information is intended only as a guide and it is not a substitute for professional legal advice. Contact your legal practitioner or a Legal Aid office in your state for formal legal advice specific to your situation.

 

Because legislation and processes regarding a missing person’s estate and financial management varies in each State and Territory, it is recommended you contact your case officer and/or a legal representative for advice specific to your missing person case.

In circumstances where a person has been missing for many years, you may eventually need to consider initiating the coronial process  to declare them legally deceased). Although this is a very hard decision, and emotionally may be very distressing, this legal process is often necessary to manage a number of legal and property issues. This may include claiming benefits and/or life insurance, or dissolving a marriage. Unfortunately, these things cannot be done without a death certificate.

In the short-term, you may need to consider:

  • Payment of the missing person’s mortgage, rent, bills or other financial obligations.
  • Consulting bank managers or financial advisers if extra funds are required to help cover mortgage repayments, rent, bills or any unexpected travel or personal expenses.
  • Arranging for a close friend, colleague or relative to help the family keep track of bills or other commitments.

Police and tracing agencies may monitor the missing person’s bank account during the investigation. It is important to inform them of any unusual activity, or if you make any changes to accounts.

 

Mobile phone accounts

Many Australian telecommunications companies have bereavement support services in place that enable families to manage accounts in the event of an emergency or death. Some companies have also implemented a specific missing person’s policy to help families manage their loved one’s account, including:

  • Vodafone
    Call Vodafone on 1300 650 410;
    Explain that you’re calling on behalf of a missing person and give the agent their phone number;
    Provide the Police Report Number from the Missing Persons Report.
  • Optus
    Request to speak with the Hardship/Advocacy team
  • Woolworths Mobile
    Request to speak with the Customer Advocate team.

Most companies require a police report number and the contact details of the case officer to authenticate the request; at your request the company may suspend the account, or provide assistance in payment plans for the account.

You are encouraged to speak with your case officer before suspending a mobile phone account to ensure this does not impede the police investigation.

Personal Property

When a person is reported missing it’s important to follow police advice so you do not impede on the investigation. You may be asked to limit access to your home, and that of the missing person, until police have collected any possible evidence. Do not touch or remove items from the missing person’s room or your own home during this time, as this information may provide police with an avenue of enquiry. Walking through the home may also interfere with forensic collection.

Keep aside items such as hairbrushes, tooth brushes etc. as these items may be required for forensic collection. Your case officer should inform you of any other specific items that need to be set aside for this purpose.

Where the missing person lives alone, arrange for someone to collect their mail and maintain their property. If the missing person has pets, you’ll also need to arrange for someone to take care of them.

Privacy Matters

During the investigation it is important to keep the privacy of the missing person in mind, and also be aware of the Privacy Act so you are aware of any hurdles or restrictions you may face.

  • As part of the investigation your case officer may request the medical records of the missing person from their doctor or dentist. The case officer may go directly to the doctor, or request your assistance in retrieving these files. If you have any medical files or information on the missing person, send it directly to your case officer.
  • Many families and friends of missing persons distribute their own posters or search information to ensure the community is aware of the person’s disappearance. To protect your privacy, your private telephone or mobile phone numbers should not be publicised. You should always use Crime Stoppers (1800 333 000) or a direct number to the investigative team. Your case officer can provide advice on the most appropriate number to provide.
  • Families of missing persons are often contacted by psychics and clairvoyants. You should not feel obliged to deal with them, and in some cases, it may be more appropriate for the psychic to be referred to your case officer.
  • If possible try to ensure the social media accounts (Facebook, Instagram etc.) of the missing person are set to private. This will stop media outlets accessing information and photos to use in the media. The media should be dealing with the Police Media Unit so that information is accurate and works to complement the investigation.
  • As the next of kin, you will need to inform (where relevant) the missing person’s employer, school, club, or business associates. You should ask them to make contact with the police if they noticed any ‘odd’ behaviour before the person disappeared, or if they have any information that may help in finding the missing person, no matter how irrelevant it may seem.
  • Conversely, the privacy of a missing person is protected by the Privacy Act 1988. The Act may restrict what information you, as the next of kin, are able to access or request. However, in accordance with the Act police have certain permissions to access personal information to assist in the location of a person who has been reported missing. Work with your case officer if you are having difficulties accessing information relating to your loved one.
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