How do I find my husband in his 80s who has vanished? I am struggling and need to know if I'm entitled to a share of his pensions.
My husband left me in the first week of January 2016 and I have neither seen or heard from him since.
We married in 1995 and unless he is deceased we are still married.
My question is whether I'm entitled to any of his pensions. I am now 62 and struggling badly.
My husband is 20 years older than me. I have no idea where he might be and every search draws a blank.
Any help or advice would be greatly appreciated.
Tanya Jefferies, of This is Money, replies: I am sorry to hear about your situation.
We asked both a lawyer and the head of a professional organisation of private investigators what action you can take to find your husband and pursue any claims you have to a share of his pension.
Katie Spooner, partner in the family team at law firm Winckworth Sherwood, replies: Step one has to be to ascertain whether your husband is alive or dead.
The options available to you and the next steps you should take will be very different depending on what you discover.
I would suggest writing to the General Register Office, which holds records of deaths in England and Wales, the National Records of Scotland, and the General Register Office for Northern Ireland.
You should give them your husband's full name and date of birth, and any other relevant information you may hold for him.
If he has passed away you should then speak to a private client solicitor about any inheritance you may or may not be entitled to.
Given that you are still married, his estate would have passed to you under the intestacy rules if he did not make a will.
If he did make a will, and your husband did not make any provisions for you, you can make a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.
However, there is a six-month time limit to claim for financial support from someone's estate following a grant of probate.
That is the legal step following a person's death which gives the executors the authority to deal with the deceased person's assets.
If it has been longer than six months since the grant of probate, your lawyer can discuss with you the possibility of seeking an extension of time.
If the GRO or other record offices do not come up with any results, your next step should be to hire a private detective or specialist professional investigator to track down your husband.
You will not be able to gain any information from the pension providers themselves even if you have the policy details for your husband.
You will need to gain this information from your husband directly, possibly with the assistance of a family law solicitor who can also discuss with you any capital (including pensions) and income claims you may have over your husband as a result of your marriage.
Despite your long separation, you may well have an entitlement to a lump sum, a pension share and/or ongoing maintenance depending on your circumstances.
Tony Imossi, head of the secretariat to the Association of British Investigators, replies: The first thing a competent investigator will address in such an unfortunate scenario is whether the client has a legitimate interest to commission the enquiry.
In some cases, such as where a client wants to locate an old friend, the investigator has to obtain post-trace consent - in other words, permission from the person they track down to pass back information about their whereabouts.
The process of ascertaining whether a client has a legitimate interest is recorded in a data privacy impact assessment, which covers several areas of data protection and data security clarified in the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
In the absence of consent, most investigations usually rely on the client's legitimate interest as the right to process an individual's personal data.
A potential financial claim by a dependant would for an investigative purpose meet that criteria and enable the investigator to accept the locate instructions.
Locating the whereabouts of the data subject seems an obvious necessity to enable a claimant, the client, to pursue any remedy through the court.
However, the method of undertaking the trace must be proportionate, reasonable, justified, unintrusive and within the principles of the Data Protection Act 2018 (DPA), which incorporates the GDPR.
With these key underlined words in mind it must be appreciated that failure to locate the person will not necessarily frustrate the claim. But reasonable steps to find the person should at least be carried out.
The next step for an investigator would therefore be to get a detailed brief from a client, which for this case is likely to include information such as:
• Full name
• Date of birth
• Last known address
• Last known contact numbers
• Family members
• Clubs and other places of interest.
Clearly with the data subject being of such a senior age the possibility that he has died is an obvious consideration and should be explored first.
Family records are available to enable the investigator to research this and depending on how common the name is, armed with the full name and date of birth, research in England, Wales and Scotland and often Northern Ireland too, is reasonably conclusive and quick.
An investigator will also have certain powerful tools at his disposal, which may enable him to complete most, if not all, the enquiries from his desk, utilising some or all of the above listed data categories.
Some databases will also record deaths. I refer to the restricted consumer and commercial databases containing 'shared' data.
Some databases will not be available to the investigator in cases like this one and to access them wrongly would breach the DPA, creating a potential criminal offence for both the investigator and his client.
I cannot emphasise enough how important it is that the investigator tasked to do the research is competent in GDPR and is accountable for his methods to a body that the client can turn to if dissatisfied or concerned.
In the event of the result not being achieved from research and telephone enquiries then the investigator may have to resort to some old-fashioned enquiries by attending addresses, which will probably escalate the rate of fees.
However, the method not only has to be 'legally' proportionate but the costs need to be affordable.
If all reasonable lines of enquiry draw a blank, there are provisions within the GDPR and DPA to ask a data controller - for example, a council, a bank, the pension fund, the Department for Work and Pensions and so on - to respond to a formal request for assistance.
They might provide the data subject's address, if the legitimate interest and other technical requirements are fully explained by the investigator or a solicitor.
Realistically, however, data controllers will prefer not to cooperate, often because they are ignorant of the exemptions available in the privacy laws, and also because in the absence of a court order compelling them to disclose information they can simply refuse to do so.
The Information Commissioner has published a helpful guide for data controllers explaining when they can provide assistance, 'When can I disclose information to a private investigator?', which can be found here.
It is essential that any investigator employed is highly trained in data protection to ensure the work done is lawful and the results are legitimate and therefore of value.
Registration with the Information Commissioner's Office is essential but is not evidence that the investigator is trained or competent in processing data or investigations, as just about anyone can register without any checks being done.
The client's rights and reputation must be protected as well as the rights of the data subject.
Sadly, a moment spent browsing the internet will draw any vulnerable and perhaps desperate person looking for investigative help into a myriad of fancy looking websites that will offer quick and cheap tracing services.
It is important that the client ensures that whoever they choose has proven accountability to a regulatory regime and professional body such as The Association of British Investigators.
A simple no-cost way to get several quotes safely and without fuss is to use the ABI 'Referral to an Investigator' form on its web site, which will very quickly provide a reliable short list of ABI members available to provide a quote.
This is not an automated facility but driven by human interaction. Rogue agencies are excluded.
So what can the client expect to pay? For a properly constructed investigation supported by a reliable and usable report you can expect to pay in the region of £150-£250 for this type of case.
If an investigator offers you an unrealistically low rate then the chances are you will be fed misinformation, unverified details, illegally obtained data, and most certainly the investigator will not have the skill or have provided the time to have conducted the investigation competently, compliantly or professionally.
For further information or to discuss a referral to an ABI member call 020 8191 7500 or email secretariat@theABI.org.uk.
Source: Mail On-line