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Predatory Marriages – A Rising Issue

Reasons to choose Wilson Browne

Care-workers and medical staff marrying their elderly patients, lonely spinsters and bachelors being whisked abroad by their dream partner 50 years their junior, or even just a seemingly happy but naïve friend tying the knot – a predatory marriage can take many forms.

A predatory marriage is defined as somebody coercing another into marriage purely to inherit their estate. With an ageing and increasingly lonely population, the problem of predatory marriage is on the rise.

Unfortunately it is not common knowledge that entering into a marriage will revoke any Will you may have previously put in place. The contents of your old Will and any wishes that came with it are instantly replaced with the rules of intestacy. Broadly speaking, these rules mean that a large majority of your money and possessions will pass to your new spouse upon your death.

This may not be a problem if you are happy for your estate to pass this way, or if you make a new Will after the marriage that reasserts your old wishes. To the unaware or vulnerable person however, this could have devastating unintended effects on their assets after they die.

This fact of law is unfortunately becoming increasingly exploited by unscrupulous persons looking to marry into an inheritance. Whilst marrying for money is no new concept – and often it clearly won’t be the law’s place to get involved with these arrangements – it is not quite so obvious when a so called predatory marriage has taken place. This begs the question, what can the law do to prevent a predator from marrying to exploit a vulnerable target, someone lacking mental capacity or someone that can otherwise be unfairly influenced.

The current state of the law is not necessarily a great help to victims. Under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, a marriage is not automatically void and null just because one party lacked mental capacity or had been clearly unduly influenced into entering the marriage by the other. Instead, the marriage is only ‘voidable’ meaning one must make an application to the court to have that marriage set aside – and even if it is then set aside, their previous Will will still remain revoked.

The issue is made even worse by the fact that once a party has died, their marriage can no longer be set aside for any reason, regardless of how obviously predatory it may have been.

This makes it is incredibly important and time sensitive to spot a predatory marriage and take steps to help the victim correct the issue. Predators are increasingly wise to this and will often marry their victim in secret, sometimes even in a different country, to avoid family members and friends from taking those steps to prevent it. Children and other beneficiaries may not realise they have been cut out of an inheritance completely, until after the victim has died.

The problem could span across multiple areas of law and our range of experienced experts are best placed to advise you.

If you suspect a loved one may have been subjected to a predatory marriage, do get in touch with our team for advice. You can email us or call 0800 088 6004.