Special Reports

Gricar is Alive, Legally

[This is another one of the entries that was lost in the transition]

            While there can be a lot of debate about the fate of Ray Gricar, the former district attorney of Centre County, it can be stated beyond question that, at this point of time, he is absolutely alive, legally.  Mr. Gricar’s remains have never been found, he was never pronounced dead, and he has never been declared dead by the courts.  From a legal standpoint, Mr. Gricar is alive.  Reality might differ from legality.

            Basically, in what might be a legal fiction, Mr. Gricar is assumed to be alive, but absent, and nobody knows where he is.  While his daughter, Lara, is "authorized to take charge of the property" she cannot own it or inherit it.  It is for this reason that Mr. Gricar’s pension is untouched and any life insurance has not been claimed.

            In late 2005, Lara was named as “trustee” for her father.  That basically means that, for many things, she acts on behalf of Mr. Gricar.  On top of that, her name was jointly on some, if not all, of his accounts; she would have had access to those prior to his disappearance.  Having an account in both names isn’t too unusual.  If something should happen to one of the names on the account, the other could access it.  I had, since college, a similar relationship with my father (well before he became sick).  The idea was, in father’s case, was that if he’d die, I’d be able to pay any bills immediately.2  There would also be a slight inheritance tax savings, as half the money is legally regarded as belonging to the survivor.

            Appointing someone, anyone a trustee for a missing person, has some unusual legal effects.  The first one deals with when a person can be declared dead:

      When a person domiciled in the Commonwealth 

disappears and is absent from his place of residence

without being heard of after diligent inquiry, the court of the

county where he last resided, aided by the report of a master

if necessary, upon the petition of any party in interest, and,

if a trustee has been appointed for the absentee, at any

time
during the trusteeship, may make a finding and decree

that the absentee is dead and of the date of his death,

provided the notice required by section 5704 (relating to

notice to absentee) has been given to the absentee.


(PA Consolidated Statutes, Section 5701, 1).2
   
  If I understand the statute correctly, any “party in interest,”

one that would inherit for example, could petition the court to

have Mr. Gricar declared dead.  Anyone, including Lara

Gricar, could have done from late 2005.  She could call up

 her attorney today and do it.  While the next subsection of the

statute deals with a presumption of absence for seven years,

the courts could declare someone missing who has a trustee

appointed, like Mr. Gricar, well before those seven years have

passed.
                 So, basically, Mr. Gricar’s heirs, or others with an 

interest in the estate could have him declared dead at this

point.  They have not done so; in not doing so, they have left

unclaimed his rather substantial pension and any life insurance

 policies.  I don’t really find that too unusual.  Tony Gricar has

said that there has been “no real rush” to declare Mr. Gricar

dead, as no body has been found, in what was one of his last

press statement on the case.3  It does make sense if the heirs

are not fairly sure if the possibly legal fiction, that someone is

dead, is a fact.
                 I found another section of the statute interesting.  

Section 5705 states:
      The court, on its own motion or upon the application of any 

party in interest, may direct the trustee to search for the

absentee in any manner which the court shall deem
      appropriate, or may appoint a master, investigator or 

appropriate agency to do so. The expenses of such a search

shall be paid out of the property of the absentee.
3
   
  The court could order the trustee to do a search for the missing

 person, and possibly, could order the findings of the police

investigation to be revealed in forming a decision.  A “party in

interest,” like an heir, could ask the court to do this; the court

can do this on its own, as well.  I wonder why no one has

asked.  I’ll ask the attorneys out there to chime in on that one.
  End Notes
   

1 CDT 12/7/05, http://www.centredaily.com/2005/12/07/3796/high-court-suspends-gricars-law.html

 

2 http://law.onecle.com/pennsylvania/decedents-estates-and-fiduciaries/00.057.001.000.html

 

3 CDT 4/15/09 http://www.centredaily.com/2009/04/15/1228995/foul-play-theory-weakened.html

 

4 http://law.onecle.com/pennsylvania/decedents-estates-and-fiduciaries/00.057.005.000.html

 

 

E-mail J. J. in Phila at scorg@live.com

 

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