What Happens When There’s No Body?

by M-Gillies

Looking for a loved one who is missing is an emotional time for families and friends; law enforcement and legal agencies will be able to provide guidance.

If someone has died, under natural, accidental or criminal circumstances, but no body has been found, how can he or she be declared dead? Death in absentia or death in the absence of remains is the legal declaration imposed on an individual who’s been missing for a period of time when evidence of supporting their existence can no longer be attributed to them.

It isn’t uncommon to hear about missing people. In the United States, roughly 2,300 adults and children go missing every day. Most are juveniles who have run away but a small fraction are adults whose disappearances have stymied families and law enforcement agents. For families, this can be an emotional time as they hold onto hope and wish for the safe reappearance of their loved ones while their financial lives are in limbo as estates can not be settled.

However, after a period of time, a family may seek that closure by declaring a missing person dead. This can come about for a number of reasons for instance, unfreezing and settling a person’s assets and estates, allowing for inheritances, closing a person’s account, allowing for the dissolution of a marriage, claiming benefits and receiving insurance payments.

While there is no definitive timeframe in which a body can be declared dead in absentia, the general rule is seven years. However, if there are circumstantial evidence that would lead a reasonable person to believe that an individual is dead on the balance of probabilities, jurisdictions may agree to issue a death certificate deeming death in absentia.

Some Famous Deaths in Absentia

Throughout the centuries, their have been many instances of notable individuals who have been declared dead in absentia. Here is just a short list of some of those people:

* Pioneer aviator Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan disappeared over the central Pacific while attempting a circumnavigational flight of the globe on July 2, 1937. Despite search attempts, their bodies were never recovered.

* After his disappearance in 1995, the parents of Richey James Edwards, guitarist of Manic Street Preachers received a Presumption of Death Order in 2005 after their son had been missing for 13 years.

* 17th Prime Minister of Australia, Harold Holt is presumed dead in absentia after going for a swim in Cheviot Beach, near the Portsea in 1967, his remains to this day remain have not been retrieved.

* On July 30, 1975, former Teamsters President Jimmy Hoffa vanished from the parking lot of Machus Red Fox Restaurant in Bloomfield Township, Michigan. Almost 40 years later, his body has yet to be recovered.

* American attorney and Chicano activist and close friend of Hunter S. Thompson, Oscar Zeta Acosta, disappeared in 1974 while traveling in Mexico.

* In 2007, after leaving the San Francisco Bay to scatter his mother’s ashes at the Farallon Islands, 63 year old database pioneer and Microsoft Research Scientist, Jim Gray was reported missing when he failed to return later that day. Despite an ambitious search and rescue, no trace of Gray or his yacht have ever been found.

Read more:

Presumed Death Following a Disappearance

Missing or legally Dead? | Lawyers.com


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