The return of personal possessions can be very poignant and upsetting for the family. The Visiting Officer (VO) should provide support and guidance and will normally be the person who delivers the effects to the executor or to the authorised family member. You may find you have to make some difficult decisions.
Delivery of the effects will be arranged through the Visiting Officer once the entitled family recipient is identified (normally via the will); this can take some time if there are personal items in more than one location, eg if the death occurred on operations or overseas training.
In some cases there may be considerable quantities of possessions and you will need to discuss how to deal with these with your Visiting Officer.
Cleaning and laundering
You should be asked whether you want items to be laundered or cleaned and you should make your views known as soon as possible. However the circumstances of the death and location may mean that it is not always possible to seek the family’s views or comply with their wishes.
If there are specific items, especially small items of jewellery that are important to you, you should advise your Visiting Officer so that these are identified as soon as possible.
Similarly you might think something is missing – if this is the case then do ask your Visiting Officer to look into this as there may be a very straight forward explanation that will save you worrying about something.
While every effort is made to handle the effects as carefully as possible, sadly in some circumstances personal items such as rings or watches do not survive explosions or accidents and may not be found.
Disposal of certain items
You may be asked to agree to the disposal of some items, rather than their return, especially large items such as furniture or cars. The MOD will not normally fund the cost of refunding these items and their value may not make it cost-effective. If this is the case the unit may arrange for items to be sold and the money transferred to the estate. You will be asked to give written consent to this.
Computers, mobile phones and cameras may need to be checked to ensure that they do not contain military sensitive information. This will be removed. You may ask for electronic items to be checked for items that you might find distressing or embarrassing but nothing will be removed unless you give written authority.
Depending on the cause of death, both civil and military police investigating the death may retain certain items eg mobile phones, cameras, documents. These may need to be retained until after the investigation is complete, but your VO should be able to get a list for you.
The process of returning items
The deceased’s unit will appoint a team which is often called the Committee of Adjustment to collect and record all personal items, and return all military effects to the Service. This may be from a number of locations depending on where the effects are stored, and may include items such as cars. Some of these items may lead you to have to make difficult decisions before the return or disposal of such items. All the items which are identified as owned by the deceased are listed by the unit / Committee of Adjustment and the list is sent to the Deceased Estates Section of the Joint Casualty & Compassionate Centre (JCCC).
The effects, where possible, will be carefully packed in boxes and sent as freight by the deceased’s unit directly to the Visiting Officer. Please tell your Visiting Officer that you want to be forewarned as to when these are arriving as it can be a very distressing occasion and you may need to make space to accept the boxes. While it can be very hard to go through the possessions the sooner that you can check them the easier it is to track down something that is missing.
The unit will hold any personal items in safekeeping, including money, which were on MOD property when death occurred. This does not include items that were in Service Families or Substitute Service Families accommodation.
If you have specific concerns on the personal effects at any time throughout the process, you should refer to your VO without delay. The MOD can only release personal items and outstanding salary and allowances to the person legally approved to deal with the Estate. The Deceased Estates Section of the JCCC are responsible for handling these issues and you will be kept informed of the progress through your VO. Release will be arranged as quickly as possible.