Can You Probate An Estate When There Is No Body?
When we think of a probate case to administer the assets of a deceased, there is one thing that we are usually pretty certain of: The deceased is actually deceased. But sometimes, that isn’t so clear, because there are times when death may not be so certain. There are times when we are quite certain someone has passed, and it may even be obvious…but there is no body, and no hard proof of death.
What happens in this situation? Can you still probate an estate, even when there is no actual body?
Situations When There is No Body
This is a problem that comes up more than you may think.
In some cases, we don’t have an actual physical body, but we know almost certainly that someone is deceased.
For example, imagine someone takes a small plane out to fly, and the plane is found crashed into a field, but no actual body is actually ever found. Or, a building collapses, and we know that a person was inside that building, but their remains are never found.
In these situations, we know with almost certainty that the person is deceased, despite there being no hard, physical proof.
In other cases, death can be assumed, even if there is no one triggering event. This often happens when someone just simply disappears without a trace. This is even more certain when the person would have been unable to take care of him or herself; imagine someone who is elderly or sick or mentally disabled who just disappears without a trace.
Probating With no Body
To probate in probate court without an actual body, the deceased must not have been heard from or seen for 5 years, and there must be no other logical explanation other than death. This largely is based on the circumstances.
For example, if someone is not heard from for 5 years, but they own multiple homes in multiple countries, they could just be in one of those countries. But if an elderly person with multiple ailments and disabilities escaped from a nursing home, wandered off, and was never heard from again, it would make it more likely that the only explanation for the disappearance was death.
A diligent search for the person must have been made; you can’t just do nothing and show up in court and say “I haven’t heard from him in five years, he must be dead.”
Accidents Shorten the Period
But the 5 years waiting period doesn’t apply, if there is some event that more than likely caused the death.
Think of our plane crash or building collapse examples above. In these catastrophic, almost guaranteed-fatal events, where you can prove the deceased as actually at the accident site, the court will allow the estate to be probated immediately, as if there was a body that was found.
For probate purposes, the day of death will be presumed to be the day of the triggering event (the accident that, presumably, caused the death).
Call the West Palm Beach probate lawyers at The Law Offices of Larry E. Bray today for help with your probate case, or with questions about any assets in probate.