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A Mysterious Disappearance – Part 2

In last week’s post I told you about Joe’s call concerning the disappearance of his brother Jim while on a trip to South America.  The fishing boat he was on came back without him but his body has not been recovered.

While the loss and uncertainty obviously is causing much pain for the family the financial impact is why Joe called us.  He said that at this point the family has accepted the fact that Jim is deceased but without a body no death certificate can be issued.

I explained to Joe that New Jersey does have a statute that lays out the process by which someone can be declared dead. A court action can be filed seeking an order directing that a death certificate be issued, however, there is a waiting period of 5 years before that action can be entertained.

“But does that mean the date of death will be 5 years from now”, Joe asked.  He was concerned about Jim’s life insurance policy and being able to put in a claim.  I told him that while the waiting period to file is 5 years, the family can ask to have the date of death declared earlier than that.  In this case he would look for that date to be when Jim disappeared.

Joe understandably didn’t like my answer.  I told him that his efforts should be directed at getting the local authorities to investigate and conclude that Jim died while on the boating trip.  If they will issue a death certificate then probate proceedings can begin in New Jersey and the family can collect the life insurance proceeds now.  But, again, that death certificate must be issued in the country where he disappeared.  It can’t be done here in New Jersey until the 5 year period has expired.