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Last Updated: Sunday, 16 January, 2005, 00:04 GMT
Tsunami families in 'legal limbo'
List of the missing, Phuket City Hall
Notices about the missing are plastered across walls in the city hall
Government officials are looking into the plight of Britons left in financial and legal limbo after their relatives went missing in the Asian tsunami.

Hundreds of Britons are missing, feared dead, so that death certificates cannot be issued and their assets are frozen.

Several government departments are looking at whether "criteria necessary for proof of death" must be changed, the Foreign Office says.

But insurers say life policies could still pay out without certificates.

The relatives of some of the missing Britons are calling for a change in the law to allow interim death certificates to be issued.

Without them, they say they will not be able to inherit their loved ones' assets or sell property belonging to them.

However, insurers say life assurance policies can be still be paid out without certificates.

Among those calling for a change is Kath Lloyd-Jones, 56, of Warwickshire.

British tourist Barry Lloyd-Jones
Barry Lloyd-Jones has not been seen since Boxing Day

Her husband Barry, 68, has not been seen since the tsunami hit as the couple were having breakfast on a beach in Thailand on Boxing Day morning.

She told BBC News: "It's hard coming to terms with the actuality of these events, particularly when you feel it's unnecessary.

"The hardship of day-to-day living, the hardship of finances being tied up, the prospect of 'My God, am I going to die before all this is resolved?' - I call that pretty hard."

The seven-year rule is intended to stop people who deliberately go missing being absolved of their financial and legal responsibilities.

'Exceptional circumstances'

It is possible for bereaved families to apply to have their relatives declared officially dead before the seven years have lapsed but each case would have to be considered individually by the probate court.

The Foreign Office has confirmed the government is urgently looking into whether special arrangements could be made for the families of missing Britons, because of "exceptional circumstances" surrounding the disaster.

Officials are examining the "criteria necessary for proof of death", a spokesman said.

The Home Office later issued a statement saying it was working to establish "the quickest possible process" to enable the Foreign Office register deaths overseas without a formal identification process.

It added that a key issue was to insure police could "complete their investigations and establish whether, on the balance of probabilities, an individual is dead".

Meanwhile, insurance companies have spoken out to dispel fears that bereaved families might have problems claiming on their loved-ones' insurance policies without death certificates.

The Association of British Insurers, which has 400 members, said life assurance companies would not automatically require a death certificate.

Whatever other problems there may be, there should not be a problem with life insurance being paid
Malcolm Tarling

Spokesman Malcolm Tarling said it was standard practice to deal with claims, even without a body.

He said: "They are not going to say 'No death certificate, no claim.'

"Where there is reasonable evidence to suggest that the person is missing, presumed dead, for example, someone was booked into a hotel which was badly affected, then insurers will deal with the claim.

"We are keen to reassure people that whatever other problems there may be, there should not be a problem with life insurance being paid."

So far 51 Britons have been confirmed dead in the disaster, which struck south-east Asia on Boxing Day.

Of those still missing, 349 are people who are known to have been in the areas struck by the tsunami, and who, it is considered, would have made contact by now had they survived.

Another 568, many of them backpackers, are thought to have been in the vicinity and have not been heard from since the disaster.

It is feared the bodies of many of those killed may never be found.

Others may eventually be identified by DNA testing among the thousands of bodies of various nationalities left in the wake of the tsunami but this is likely to take at least a year, officials have warned.




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