Law aims to help families of people presumed to be dead

Relatives would no longer face seven year wait to deal with estates, life insurance policies

The families of missing people who are presumed to have died will no longer have to wait seven years to deal with their estates under a law set to come into effect on Friday.

Legislation was passed by the Oireachtas in July allowing families to apply to the courts for a presumption of death order, the approval of which means a death certificate can be issued.

A person cannot be declared dead at present until they are missing for at least seven years, even in cases where a body has not been recovered after an accident. This means that assets such as life insurance policies cannot be processed, nor can any decisions be made in relation to a missing person’s estate.

Under the new legislation, a presumption of death order may be made by a court where it is satisfied that the circumstances of the person having gone missing indicate that their death is either virtually certain or highly probable.

In determining whether a presumption of death order is to be made, the court shall take into account all the circumstances surrounding the disappearance and absence of the person.


This will include the time, location and circumstances of the disappearance and the presence, or absence, of a motive for the missing person to remain alive but after disappearing.

In broad terms, a presumption of death order under the Civil Law (Presumption of Death) Act 2019 will have the same effect in law as arises from the registration of a death.

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan signed the commencement order into law on Tuesday. "This legislation will, I hope, offer some relief and certainty to many families in circumstances where, up to this point, no presumption of death could be made legally," he said.

Speaking in the Dáil when the Bill was passed, Mr Flanagan said he hoped it would provide some closure for the families of missing persons.

“The families of missing persons often feel like they are living in limbo,” he said. “I hope that the Bill we have passed today will give them some measure of much needed closure by enabling them to put the affairs of their missing loved ones in order.”

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson is an Irish Times reporter