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Death and Dying - Legal Death And Missing Persons

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Legal Death and Missing Persons

There is a legal presumption that an individual is alive until proved dead. In attempting to determine whether a person has died after having been missing for a certain period of time, the law assumes that the person is alive until a reason exists to believe otherwise.

The common-law rule is that where evidence indicates that the absent person was subject to a particular peril, he or she will be legally presumed dead after seven years unless the dis-appearance can be otherwise explained. The seven-year interval may be shortened if the state decides to enact legislation to change it. Some states may permit the dissolution of a marriage or the administration of an estate based on a mysterious disappearance that endures for less than seven years. A majority of states will not make the assumption that a missing person is dead unless it is reasonable to assume that the person would return if still alive.

A special problem emerges in a situation where a person disappears following a threat made on his or her life. Such an individual would have a valid reason for voluntarily leaving and concealing his or her identity. Conversely, however, the person would in fact be dead if the plot succeeded. A court would have to examine carefully the facts of a particular case of this nature.

In some states, the court will not hold that an individual has died without proof that an earnest search was made for him or her. During such a search, public records must be consulted, wherever the person might have resided, for information regarding marriage, death, payment of taxes, or application for government benefits. The investigation must also include questioning of the missing person's friends or relatives as to his or her whereabouts.

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