Who is marrying your mum or dad for their money?

This is a true story.

Joan was 91 years old when she died. She had been a very active lady, extremely family orientated with a loving daughter who lived in a separate house on the family plot. Joan was widowed in 2008, she remained active and lived independently (although diagnosed with dementia) until her death in 2016.

After Joan’s death her family were unable to commence grieving, or indeed celebrate her wonderfully long, active life, because three days after Joan died, her daughter was informed by the family GP that a 67yr old man had arrived at the surgery with a marriage certificate to show that Joan had married him 5 months earlier, before 2 witnesses from the local pub. None of Joan’s family or friends were present.

The marriage meant that the family could not have conduct of the funeral and did not have the authority to organise or have erected a headstone. Joan continues to this day to lay in an unmarked grave.

The marriage also invalidated Joan’s Will, which had gifted the family home, contents, and plot to her children. After Joan’s death the new husband emptied the house of its contents throwing away letters which Joan had written her late husband during the war. Family photographs were disposed off and all the little items Joan’s family would want to have as keepsakes from their childhood disappeared. The family had no legal rights to enter the house to collect and keep any items. All the items now belonged to the man, the new husband.

After the marriage Joan had not made a new Will and therefore was deemed to have died “Intestate” (without a Will). Under the laws of Intestacy, the new husband was able to receive the first £270,000 of Joan’s estate and half the value of the estate above this amount. So, he sold Joan’s house and pocketed the net sale proceeds of sale.

Months before Joan died, her daughter had been aware that a man had commenced living in her mother’s home, he called himself a “carer”. The man had befriended Joan at her gate on day when she was pruning her hedge and soon after had moved his clothes to the spare room.

When questioned Joan was confused as to who this man was. He isolated Joan from the family and would refuse to allow them to come into the property. The family were concerned for Joan and the family did seek help.

Joan’s GP suggested that social services become involved, but Social Services had no rights of entry and informed the family “there were no safeguarding concerns”. It seems the man ensured Joan was dressed daily and fed and clean.

The police suggested that it was simply a matter that people would think “they [the family] did not like the man” and the insinuation seemed to be that the family were trying to protect “their inheritance”.

The family even attended the family solicitor who assured them that Joan “would not be able to marry or make a new Will because of her dementia”. A few months later Joan married.

In this scenario it might be hoped that the Registrar would have assessed to see if Joan had the capacity to enter the marriage. Indeed, on the day of the marriage, one of the Registrars did raise with the other if Joan had capacity because she was not answering all the questions correctly or needed assistance from the new husband to be. However, because Joan remembered the street she lived in (not the number) and knew her age (but not date of birth) the Registrars deemed her to be capable to enter the marriage. It should be noted Registrars are not trained in capacity assessments or safeguarding. Separate interviews beforehand are not always carried out and are not mandatory, meaning a “spouse to be” can be seen as lovingly or helping, when answering questions for the other.

In the event a person is deemed to have entered a predatory marriage the law does not allow for such marriages to be annulled from the date it happens (if a family discovers them before the death of a loved one), which means any Will made before the marriage will still be invalid but then at least the intestacy laws will then favour the family if in the event mental capacity is lost.

There is no procedure for annulment or voiding the marriage after a person has died.

It is unknown how many people have been targeted or the level of predatory marriages in the UK.

There is no legal requirement for a family to be told about a marriage, even if family members are appointed as attorneys under Power of Attorney.

Justice for Joan

Joan’s family have been campaigning for 3 years to seek a change in the law which would protect vulnerable people by ending predatory marriage. They want a repeal of section 18 of the Wills Act 1937 so that marriage does not revoke Wills. This would remove the incentive to marry for the money the laws of intestacy currently give.

The family are also asking for better training for Registrars.

So, what happen to the man who married Joan? “Nothing” is the answer he kept all the money and possessions and 2yrs later married another elderly woman who lived locally.

For more information on predatory marriage

If you have concerns about a loved one need some legal advice and assistance do call 01603 327280 today to book an appointment.

Salena Dawson
Principal Solicitor