In one case, when the father was presumed dead, the mother gave
permission for the daughter to marry by license. Years later
the father returned from his sojourn abroad. The daughters
marriage was declared invalid and her children illegitimate because
she had married without her fathers permission. ( see section
There are court cases in which a man was finally declared dead
after more than two decades. These cases usually involve legacies.
Because supposedly dead people did return, the courts were in
no hurry to have them declared dead. One man came back fourteen
years after he was declared missing. The courts had refused to
declare him dead.
One officer in the military was declared dead in battle by his
comrades in arms, his superior officers and the list of dead and
injured issued by the army. The brother asked for the authority
to settle his brothers estate and received it. Then the
dead man returned. The letters of administration of
probate were cancelled, the brother returned the papers and all
sales and gifts were cancelled. Fortunately, the man returned
a short time after he had been declared dead and not years later.
The question is often asked : How long must a peer be missing
before he is declared dead? How long before his son can succeed
to the peerage?
It is very difficult to have a peer declared dead and further
problem to have his heir succeed to the peerage. A modern example
of a missing peer is the 7th Lord Lucan who is accused of murder.
It took close to twenty years for his son, Lord Bingham to have
his father declared dead and himself the owner of the hereditable
estates. As there is no longer a question of having to apply for
a seat in the house of Lords , he feels free to style himself
as the 8th Earl of Lucan.
Circumstances determine cases. The circumstances of the disappearance
and the age of the man come into the picture as well as his marital
decision of the court would depend on individual circumstances.
Was the man known to be on a ship that sank? Did he go off to
explore darkest Africa? Had he made arrangements for his property,
etc.? How old was he when he disappeared? Had he written anyone
ever? Was he married? Did he have a legitimate son?
The courts would be slower to declare a man dead who was unmarried
and had no legitimate sons as there was a possibility of the man
marrying and having a son while absent.
If a man left a legitimate son, that son had a better chance
of having his father declared dead so as to allow him to manage
the property. During the Regency when being a Protestant Peer
entitled one to a seat in the House of Lords, everyone was much
more reluctant to allow the son to succeed to his fathers
peerage. The son might have to wait until his father would have
been eighty years old before he would be declared dead and he
could succeed to the dignity.
If the father had a lesser barony among his dignities, the son
might be given a seat in the house of Lords by a writ of acceleration.
That is a possibility not a probability and I know of no case
where it really happened when the father was missing.