On page 13 of Men & Magic, it says:
The referee may allow players to designate one relative of his character to inherit his possessions if for any reason the participnt unexpectedly disappears, or with or without “death” being positively established, for a period of one game month, let us say. […] If the character returns, he takes possession of his estate once more (referee’s option as to willingness of the relative to give it up) but must pay an additional 10% tax in order to regain his own. Optionally the relative may be allowed to stay on as a non-player character in the service of the player-character. Loyalty of the relative in such a circumstance would be at a penalty of from 0 to -6, and he would possibly intrigue to regain control. Characters without a relative will lose all their possession should they disappear and not return before whatever period is designated as establishing death.
Willing possession to a new, related character became a familiar part of later D&D as a way to give a player’s new character a little boost after his old one died, but the “unexpectedly disappears” bit strikes me a strange. The soap operatic return of a character believed dead is even odder. I suspect that the intention with this rule has more to do with the disappearance of a player that the disappearance of a character.
When you have, as Men & Magic says, up to fifty(!) players rotating in and out of a campaign, it’s inevitable that a few of those people will drop out of the game, and that they may or may not eventually return. What happens to their character? What happens to the juicy and important treasure maps in that character’s possession? Declare the character dead, and give all his stuff to a new character controlled by a player who can show up for a game once in a while. If the truant player later returns to the campaign, then you have the possibility of intrigue between the characters.
I wonder how this would work in practice. When declaring a relative, would the player prearrange matters with another player in the event he missed a few games, or would the DM accumulate a collection of relative NPC’s he could dole out to any player whose character died? (This is one of those things where it’s difficult for me to gauge whether this interpretation was already obvious to everyone except me, or if I’m just completely misreading it.)