What is a predatory marriage?

A ‘Predatory Marriage’ is not specifically a legal term, but it describes when a vulnerable person is influenced, coerced, or duped into marrying, with the predatory spouse seeking to benefit financially. The intention is to revoke any existing Will, enabling the predatory spouse to inherit.

In recent years there have been increasing calls for a change in the law to protect vulnerable adults from falling victim to such predators. This is as a direct result of a rise in cases where fraudsters have married vulnerable elderly individuals, without the knowledge of their loved ones, and are then able to access the new spouse’s lifetime savings as well as inheriting.

The issue hit the news in 2018 following the case of Joan Blass, a 91-year-old dementia sufferer who died months after secretly marrying a man 24 years her junior. Her children where shocked to learn that their mother had married her live-in carer just 5 months before she passed away. Joan was already diagnosed with Vascular Dementia and could not remember her name or where she lived.

Her children lost out on their £210,000 inheritance, due to the marriage revoking her Will. The predatory spouse even prevented the children attending her funeral and she was buried in an unmarked grave. An absolutely shocking case but one that is being repeated more and more often sadly.

Mark Williams of Amba Legal Services says “It is staggering that there is no legal requirement for a capacity assessment to marry, especially in circumstances such as these. Mrs Blass’ MP Fabian Hamilton took the matter to Parliament but as yet there has been no change in the law.”

A quick google search reveals similar horror stories, such as a man in his eighties with severe dementia, who had lost capacity, the first attempt by the predatory partner to wed was thwarted by the man’s son, but days later a second attempt was successful. As a result, his Will was revoked, and his new wife became the main beneficiary of his estate. In another case, a dementia-sufferer was even whisked away to New Zealand by his predatory partner to be married without his family’s knowledge.

Mark said “Until the law changes any incapacitated adult is at risk of such predators and all we can do as practitioners is ensure our vulnerable client policy and processes address such. However, in reality the marriage (and damage) would take place without the wider family or indeed professional advisors knowing.”

Daphne Franks, the daughter of Joan Blass has stated “The secret marriage just destroyed that Will as if it never existed. All the personal belongings in the house now belonged to him [the new husband], including my wedding dress and my grandad’s letters from the first World War. It was just heart-breaking.”