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Getting a Death Certificate for the Disappeared

Laura Babcock disappeared in 2012. It took her grieving Toronto family seven years to get a death certificate for the 23-year-old. Her case was a landmark for families struggling to prove a loved one is gone to settle their estate.

Love Triangle Led to Death

Babcock was couch surfing in the summer of 2012, after an argument with her parents about a midnight curfew. The University of Toronto drama and English grad was working as an escort, travelling from place to place with her dog Lacey. Police allege she was killed after becoming involved in a love triangle. 

A Heartless End for Hamilton Dad

Ontario Superior Court of Justice heard the vivacious brunette’s body was likely placed in an animal incinerator like Hamilton father Tim Bosma, who disappeared in May 2013 while taking two strangers for a test drive. They had responded to an ad for his pickup truck. Bosma’s ashes were found on Dellen Millard’s Ayr farm that month.

Case Built on Circumstantial Evidence 

Prosecutors had little physical evidence to go on after Babcock’s disappearance but believe she was Millard’s first victim, 10 months earlier on July 3 or 4, 2012. A forensic expert identified human bones in a photo taken two weeks later. The missing woman had placed cell calls near her former boyfriend’s home July 3 and her Roots duffle bag was found at the farm.

Life Imprisonment for Girlfriend’s Death

Babcock’s killers were sentenced in 2017 to 25 years in prison with no parole for first-degree murder. The pair appealed in 2018 on the basis their sentences were too harsh. Her presumed death was one of three attributed to Millard, who was convicted in 2018 of killing his father Wayne. The senior Millard, 71, was a well-known Etobicoke pilot and owner of Millardair, a chartered plane and aircraft maintenance company. 

No Body Increases Family’s Pain

Although their daughter was presumed dead, with no body, Babcock’s grieving family was denied a death certificate. The omission affected them in unexpected ways. An Elections Canada voting card arrived for her in 2019. Because they were unable to prove she was dead, she remained on the voters’ list. The family was forced back into court to petition the Ontario coroner’s office to officially register her death.

How Coroners Declare a Death in Ontario

Her mother hoped their and others’ experiences would lead to legislative changes requiring the Ontario coroner’s office to declare a death when a murder conviction occurs. Previously, the cause and manner of death were required before a coroner could provide a medical certificate of death. 

A Perilous Disappearance

The family of an Ontario man with a suicidal past were successful in having him declared legally dead in 2008 after he disappeared. The severely depressed man left a handwritten note before going missing. The Ontario court agreed he had disappeared in “circumstances of peril” and granted their request. Other families in similar situations have been unsuccessful because they lacked proof the individual planned their own death. The Babcocks won their case because a criminal court ruled their daughter was murdered and she had been in danger when she disappeared.

What Peril Means

Peril is the legal concept behind the Ontario Declaration of Death Act. The law requires an Ontarian to have disappeared while in serious and immediate danger if no body is available as proof of death. The act was updated in 2002 after 9/11 because of the many bodies that were never found. A court may declare a person dead if:

  1. The circumstances they disappeared under are perilious, such as by a natural or manmade disaster or suicide.
  2. They have not been heard of or from since disappearing by the applicant or anyone else.
  3. The person applying for the declaration has no reason to believe they are alive.
  4. Sufficient evidence exists they are dead.

Probating Disappeared Person’s Estate

Tread carefully before you request a declaration of death court order. Probate is final and even if the person is later found alive, estate decisions cannot usually be reversed. Any property or possessions you distribute from a disappeared person’s estate does not have to be returned. 

Justice for Ontario Families

Ontario responded to the Babcock’s request in December 2019 with introduction of the Stronger and Smarter Justice Act, 2020. The act amends the Ontario’s Vital Statistics Act to make it easier to register a death when physical remains haven’t been located. Thanks to the Babcock’s efforts, families can now pursue a declaration of death and statement of death, closing that chapter of their lives and rightfully settling the deceased’s estate.

Get Legal Assistance With Probating an Ontario Estate

Axess Law Ontario wills and estate lawyers answer your questions about probating an estate when a family member disappears. Online video conferences with licensed lawyers are available, day or evening, 7 days a week. Call toll-free to 1-877-522-9377 or in Greater Toronto at 647-479-0118 or use our online booking form to make an appointment. In person meetings can be arranged at our Ottawa, Toronto, Scarborough, Vaughan, Etobicoke, Mississauga Winston Churchill or Mississauga Heartland law offices.

Click here to learn more about Axess Law’s wills and estates services.

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