When I was browsing the legal weblog Law and the Multiverse – Superheroes, supervillains, and the law recently, I was thinking about the presumption of death, usually after seven years (see entry I'm not dead yet). I discovered that the German statute governing this is the Verschollenheitsgesetz, passed in July 1939. Whether this was because of the approaching Second World War, I don't know. The Straight Dope has an entry on the legal problems when someone declared dead comes back.
The law calls people who disappear "absent" or "missing." Professor Jeanne Carriere prefers a more dramatic term: "the living dead." In her article, "The Rights of the Living Dead: Absent Persons in Civil Law," published in the Louisiana Law Review, she says The number of these "living dead" in the United States has been estimated at between 60,000 and 100,000. They create a morass of legal problems. Questions may arise concerning the security of transactions with the missing person's estate, such as the disposition of his land, the right to proceeds of insurance policies on his life and pensions, the right to a cause of action, the necessity of providing for his dependents, the marital status of his spouse, the paternity and legitimacy of children of his spouse's second marriage, the conservation of his property from possible waste, the devolution of succession rights that would pass to him, the release of property from a life tenancy, the requirement of his consent to certain transactions, the merchantability of land titles from his estate, and claims of inheritance from him ...Zum vollständigen Artikel