The unexpected burden of a missing loved one

VIC Missing Person John Forster

When Christine Forster’s husband and life partner of 24 years went missing in October 2017, she never imagined the emotional rollercoaster she would have to go on to regain control over her family’s financial future; from her sons’ looming school fees and the replacement of the family car, to disputes over her husband’s work entitlements and superannuation.

Following a loved one’s disappearance, for some families the financial impact can be just as devastating as the emotional impact. Not only is their loved one missing but they also have to deal with the predicament of not being able to stop phone bills, cancel memberships, close accounts, or maintain mortgage payments.

In many cases, police will have reasonable grounds to suspect the missing person is deceased, only to take a number of years before a Coroner finds the person deceased, allowing a death certificate to be produced. Only then can a family administer the estate of a missing person.

Christine spoke during the lead-up to National Missing Persons Week 2018 about the financial pressures that have now been placed on her family since the disappearance of her husband.

“When John went missing, our family lost approximately 75 per cent of our income,” Christine said.

“It is hard enough having to deal with not knowing what has happened to John and how to manage our lives without any closure, but it is made so much harder when we have to cope with the burden of potential financial hardship.”

Christine said the experience has brought out the best and worst of people and institutions, highlighting the challenges that many families of missing persons go through.

“We have had to deal with banks, employers and other institutions that do not recognise or understand the ordeals endured by families of missing people. This has included having to provide definitions of the word ‘missing’, overcome privacy concerns and fight to ensure we receive John’s entitlements.

“I have also found our dealings with these institutions to be shockingly insensitive at times. For instance, I was hurt in the manner that I was told that they could terminate John’s employment after 20 work days after he went missing. For someone who hadn’t missed a work deadline in 20 years, his termination due to ‘abandonment of duties’ just didn’t seem right.

“However, while this has been an incredibly upsetting time for my family, there have been some wonderfully supportive people. I’ve received kind-hearted and practical help from my son’s school whose principal has gone above and beyond.

“He attended a meeting with me at my husband’s employer to outline our family situation and determine what their HR actions may be – without him I wouldn’t have been able to speak. Further, knowing the stress I was under, he offered to defer all school fees for my two sons until our financial disputes are resolved. We have been in survival mode over the past year and without the school’s support I couldn’t have coped. We are still waiting.”

In recounting the day John went missing, Christine says she went from kissing him goodbye on a Saturday morning to, later that night, listening to search helicopters passing overhead to scan Sugarloaf Reservoir, where police found his car.

“By this stage I was frantic with worry as I struggled to comprehend what was happening and scared that John was lost out there in the dark and in the bush,” Christine said.

“John didn’t have a great sense of direction and he is risk adverse so I kept hopeful that he would navigate by the stars or stay put and wait for rescuers if he was injured. It was the beginning of a nightmare and, now, I’m moving in an unknown direction and desperately trying to regain some control. This is not how John and I saw our lives turning out – these were not the plans and dreams we set together.”

Told by Christine Forster, 2018

Christine’s husband John Forster was last seen on 7 October 2017 at their family home in Diamond Creek, Victoria. That night, John’s car was located at Sugarloaf Reservoir in Christmas Hills. He was 59-years-old at the time.

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