Sheikh Mâjid b. `Abd al-Rahmân Al Faryân, professor at al-Imâm University, Riyadh
A missing person is someone who all concerned parties have lost complete contact with. It is not known whether that person is alive or dead.
With respect to when such a person should be considered as dead, we must keep in mind that a person goes missing under various circumstances. The person could have gone missing under unexceptional circumstances, where the person is expected to be alive, like going missing on a business trip where nothing extraordinary or dangerous is known to have taken place. We can contrast this with a case where the person goes missing under circumstances where it is likely that the person has died, like in a plane crash or a shipwreck at sea.
In both cases, the governing authorities need to determine how long to wait. This determination may be prescribed by the state or by a judicial decision, taking the particular circumstances into consideration. Generally, what needs to be estimated is the time and means of conducting a search until it can reasonably be assumed that the person being sought has died. At the end of this period of time, the person will be declared legally dead.
With respect to the missing person's estate and inheritance, there are two problems:
1. Does the missing person inherit from his or her relatives?
The answer to this question is as follows: If any of the missing person's relatives die during the period of time before the missing person is officially declared dead, then the missing person's share of the inheritance will be legally transferred to his or her estate in full. The missing person is treated like any other living inheritor.
2. How do others inherit from the missing person's estate?
No one may inherit from the missing person's estate during the period of time before the person has been officially presumed as dead. Once this period of time is over and the person is legally presumed as dead, then the missing person's estate is distributed among his or her inheritors who are alive at the time of the declaration of presumed death.
And Allah knows best.
Source: Islam Today