Most often, there is no question that someone has died. But when someone has been missing, it's a difficult call to make, especially when dealing with estate administration duties. In Ontario, as in the rest of Canada, there are procedures to follow when declaring someone officially dead.
Before a person's assets can be distributed, an official declaration of death has to be issued. In most instances, this a relatively simple process. But if a person has been missing for quite some time and there is no real indication of death -- no mortal remains have been found -- then things could get complicated. People disappearing is not common, but it has happened. There have been instances when someone has been declared dead only to show up years later.
Although individual provinces have their own laws regarding thissue, they are pretty similar. Loved ones can petition the court to have a person declared dead, but so can creditors, life insurance companies, beneficiaries, estate trustees or executors or lawyers. In declaring someone deceased, courts want to know that the person hasn't been seen or heard from for a specific time; that the person applying for the declaration believes the person to be deceased and that there is reasonable evidence to assume the person is deceased.
Each case is unique, though courts usually look at seven years before issuing a declaration of death. This extended timeframe is basically used to prevent insurance fraud by those trying to fake their own deaths. But seven years isn't carved in stone. For instance if someone is on a airplane which crashes and no body is found, it may be safe to assume the person perished in the crash.
There are many issues that are unique to estate administration. Legalities like those associated with formally declaring someone dead could use the experience of an Ontario lawyer seasoned in wills and estates law. A lawyer would be able to help his or her client in these types of difficult legalities.
Source: findlaw.ca, "When can someone be officially declared dead?", Accessed on Oct. 7, 2017