Law to revoke wills must be changed, say campaigners
A growing number of so called “inheritance hunters” are exploiting older and vulnerable people by grooming them, and then marrying them, so they can inherit their assets and disinherit any family members in the process.
Since the issue was highlighted by campaigners last month, more than 70 families have come forward to reveal that they too have been victims of inheritance scams.
Inheritance hunters are able to exploit the law which currently states that marriage revokes any previously made wills, even when the bride or groom has dementia. Campaigners are now trying to change this.
Labour MP Fabian Hamilton, who has been campaigning for a change in the law since 2018 commented that,
“this is an issue of justice and fairness and stopping the few unscrupulous people from exploiting what I believe is a loophole in the law”.
Hamilton raised the issue at Prime Ministers Questions last month, and following discussions with junior justice minister Lord Wilson he stated that “it can be easily amended, it has to be done right, we must make sure that there aren’t unintended consequences of correcting one injustice that creates another, Lord Wilson explained that to me very helpfully, I trust that the government will look at this and move to correct this injustice”.
The daughter of a 91-year old woman who secretly married a man 20 years her junior, despite being diagnosed with dementia, began the campaigns for a change in the law back in 2016. Daphne Franks said she knew nothing about her mother Joan’s marriage, and when she died, consequently lost all of her inheritance after her mother’s will was revoked.
Daphne lost a court case against her mother’s new husband after he maintained that Joan was mentally capable of making the decision to marry. But Joan’s family say that she didn’t have the mental capacity to marry, or make the decision, and that she wouldn’t have remembered the ceremony taking place.
Charities have also noticed an increase in cases of the elderly and vulnerable being targeted and “groomed” by con artists who befriend them purely for financial gain.
Joel Lewis, policy manager at Age UK says that
“these cases are the tip of the iceberg as they are just the ones people know about”.
Better training needs to be available to registrars to recognise diminished mental capacity of victims and the manipulative behaviour of fraudsters, he said, adding that they “often gaslight and manipulate them and remove them from sources of support so they place all their trust in the fraudster rather than family members looking out for them”.
Gavin Terry, head of policy at Alzheimer’s Society, said:
“more can be done to protect the 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK such as ensuring both parties in a marriage do consent and have the mental capacity to do so”.
Fabian Hamilton, MP, said that following meetings and raising the issue in Parliament,
“I will be following up my productive meeting with further, written proposals to the Ministry of Justice on the technical and legal aspects of changing the law around wills to ensure they cannot be revoked by a marriage”.