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Presumption of Death in New York - What Does it Mean?

In the movie Castaway, Tom Hanks disappears in a plane crash and is abandoned on a tropical island for years. In that time, his significant other moved on and life went on without him, as it was assumed that he was dead. But like with everything else, there are specific rules that cover when someone is deemed dead -- especially in tragic circumstances like a plane crash or where someone just plain disappears.

In New York, if a person disappears in an unexplained absence, that person will be presumed dead if no one can find him for three years. This is important because the administration of that person's estate cannot begin until the missing person is declared dead.

In addition, it is not enough to be simply missing for three years. In that time, there needs to be a diligent search for the missing person and without a search, the three-year clock may not start ticking.

However, if a person disappears and the absence is explained such as by a plane crash or shipwreck, an earlier date of death may be given. So once Tom Hanks disappeared in the plane crash in the movie Castaway, his death could have been determined shortly after the search ended even if three years had not passed.

The date of death and the presumption of death are important because without a legal death the estate of the missing person will not be administered. So heirs will not receive their inheritances and the last wishes of the missing person may not be carried out.

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