So May 21, 2011 came and went, and despite the prediction of Harold Camping, we’re still here. The Rapture will take place another day. For those who don’t know, the Rapture is a belief among some, that all worthy Christians will suddenly disappear from earth and instantly join Jesus in heaven.
The Rapture will be followed by all sorts of bad things that will happen to those of us unfortunate enough to be “Left Behind” so to speak. Earthquakes, Disease, Famine, etc. You know, just your typical end of the world scenario.
If that isn’t entirely accurate please don’t write in to correct me. Give me a break. I’m Jewish, and it’s close enough.
The point is that there is a belief that hundreds of thousands of people will suddenly disappear at some point. Vanish. Poof. And as a probate attorney, I have a responsibility to be prepared for such an event.
Let’s assume that after the Rapture, newly sworn-in President Carrot Top keeps the country together and maintains our system of laws. There are a lot of people who have disappeared, and their estates need to be probated.
Probate is the process of administering a decedent’s estate after their death. The Court appoints a Personal Representative (known in some places as an Executor) to gather the decedent’s assets, ascertain and pay the decedent’s creditors, and to determine the beneficiaries of the estate and distribute the remaining property to them.
There’s only one problem.
Section 733.209 of the Florida Statutesprovides that 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. Now I don’t want to get into a discussion as to whether or not someone who was Raptured is actually dead or if they are still alive but living in some other plane of existence. Let’s assume that for our earthly purposes, the raptured aren’t merely pining for the fjords. They’ve literally joined the bleedin’ choir invisible.
Ok, so how do we prove it? Remember, the Raptured disappeared, body and all. If there is no body how do we know that they died?
Although I’m joking about the rapture, there are all sorts of circumstances in which people just disappear. We think that they’re probably dead, but we have no way to prove it. For example, a person who goes hiking in the woods, never comes back, and their body isn’t found. Or someone who goes missing from a cruise ship.
Section 731.103 provides what evidence can be used to prove that a person died so that their state may be administered.
- An authenticated copy of a death certificate issued by an official or agency of the place where the death purportedly occurred is prima facie proof of the fact, place, date, and time of death and the identity of the decedent. In other words, a “Death Certificate.” However, I’m assuming that official death certificates will not be available for the Raptured.
- A copy of any record or report of a governmental agency, domestic or foreign that a person is alive, missing, detained, or from the facts related presumed dead is prima facie evidence of the status and of the dates, circumstances, and places disclosed by the report. Again, this does not help us either.
- A person who is absent from the place of his or her last known domicile for a continuous period of five years and whose absence is not satisfactorily explained after diligent search and inquiry is presumed to be dead …
So the general rule of § 733.103(3) is that you have to wait five years after your loved one is raptured (or has otherwise gone missing) before you can probate their estate. After that period of time an interested person can petition the court to have them declared dead.
Of course, five years is just the outside number. Under § 731.103(4), if you have direct or circumstantial evidence of the person’s death prior to the expiration of the five year time period, then the court may have them declared dead earlier.
But the court has to be careful, or otherwise it will end up like the scene at the end of the Hobbit where Bilbo Baggins returns from his quest with Gandalf to find the town distributing his assets to those horrible Sackville–Bagginses.