The person filing the petition must also describe their relationship to the missing person and a description of any search efforts or legal inquiry made to locate them.

If the court approves the petition to recognize the missing person as legally deceased, it will:

  • Appoint a personal representative for the estate of the missing person, in accordance with California’s probate code. If the missing person had a will and named an estate administrator, that person will assume the responsibilities of estate administrator. Otherwise, the court will appoint one.
  • Determine and provide the missing person’s presumed date of death.

After the court has approved the petition, probate proceedings can be initiated and completed in accordance with ordinary procedure.

How an Attorney Can Help

Depending on the circumstances of a missing person’s disappearance, convincing a court they should be presumed dead can be very challenging—especially if the missing person had substantial debt, ties to foreign countries, or any compelling reason to cut ties with their loved ones.

An experienced probate attorney knows what evidence the court will want to see to approve a petition to presume a person dead, and an experienced probate attorney knows which evidence works best.

A missing person’s estate can be complex to handle because an individual whose whereabouts are unknown may not have thoroughly planned their intended legacy. Retaining an attorney is crucial to ensuring you get the inheritance and support you need and the closure you deserve.


Philip J. Kavesh
Nationally recognized attorney helping clients with customized estate planning guidance for over 40 years.