America Has 88,000 Missing Persons, and Some Families Need Them Declared Dead
“It’s the most emotional thing I have ever done as a lawyer,” one attorney said.
There are nearly 90,000 active cases of missing persons in the United States, according to a recent report in the Wall Street Journal, and some of their families don’t realize how important it is to have a death certificate “until they face an unexpected problem.”
“Many families don’t realize they need a death certificate for a missing loved one until they face an unexpected problem, such as not being able to sell jointly-owned property,” WSJ’s Sara Randazzo writes. “Without a legal death declaration, spouses also can’t collect social security for minors, benefit from retirement plans or unlock other assets.
“Some resist going to court out of hope the missing person will return, while others use it to help reach emotional closure.”
Randazzo’s story follows Rosaura Alicia Yu, whose husband disappeared in 2012. As a bus driver, her salary often doesn’t cover food and water bills for their six children. After a judge declared Dennis You dead, Mrs. Yu is finally able to sell their home in California and access her husband’s life insurance policy.
But for some, it’s not as easy — and it can be devastating for both lawyers and their clients.
“It’s the most emotional thing I have ever done as a lawyer,” attorney Beth Chapman told the WSJ. As a lawyer in Juneau, Alaska, Chapman has worked with the families involved in two “presumption of death” trials in regards to people who disappeared while engaging in outdoor activities.
She told Randazzo: “It is wrenching for families to go into court to seek a death declaration without a body.”
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