In our modern society, individuals disappear or go missing in increasing numbers. What happens to the Estate these missing persons leave behind when they or their bodies are never found and there is no death certificate or confirmation that these individuals are truly gone? For instance, if boating enthusiast Dan from Fort Lauderdale decides to take his Sea Ray for a night cruise and he is lost at sea, can his estate be probated if his body is never found?
The State of Florida has rules in place which will allow interested parties to proceed with probate administration of a missing person’s estate absent a confirmation of death. Florida Statute § 733.209 states that “Any interested person may petition to administer the estate of a missing person; however, no personal representative shall be appointed until the court determines the missing person is dead.” The question then becomes, how does the court determine that the missing person is actually dead? Florida Statute § 731.103(3) provides that “A person who is absent from the place of her or her last known domicile for a continuous period of 5 years and whose absence is not satisfactorily explained after diligent search and inquiry is presumed to be dead. The person’s death is presumed to have occurred at the end of the period unless there is evidence establishing that death occurred earlier. Evidence showing that the absent person was exposed to a specific peril of death may be a sufficient basis for the court determining at any time after such exposure that he or she died less than 5 years after the date on which his or her absence commenced.” In light of these Florida statutes, the answer is “yes,” a missing person’s Estate can be probated. The court can enter an order commencing probate proceedings on a missing person upon a finding of sufficient evidence to presume death.
If you or someone you know has gone missing and is presumed to be deceased, it is important that you hire an experienced attorney so that they can help you determine your rights and receive your proper share of an estate.