Predatory marriage – the people who marry vulnerable older people with inheritance in mind

Unlike in Scotland, marriage in England revokes a previous Will, meaning that vulnerable older people can become victims to what is called ‘predatory’ marriage, where they are targeted by calculating individuals who want to deprive those people’s families of the rightful inheritance.

In a recent feature in the Guardian, Daphne Franks detailed what had happened to her mother Joan, who she believes fell victim to such a ploy. Daphne’s mother was 87 when she met her second husband and had already been diagnosed with vascular dementia.

Joan lived in the grounds of Daphne’s home. The man—24 years younger than Joan—got talking to her when she was out trimming her hedge. She invited him in. At the time, she told her daughter there were a few other old ladies that he visited, which had set off alarm bells though Daphne didn’t act on that impulse at the time.

Doors locked

The man would take Joan out for long periods of time and be vague about where they had been. Eventually he moved in and started locking the doors of the house so that Daphne could no longer pop in to see her mum.

Daphne told the Guardian her mother often seemed unsure about who the man was and why he was in her house. She referred to him as ‘Laddo’ rather than by his name. Although Daphne and her family tried to question the man and find out what he was up to, he always gave them evasive answers.

By the time her mum died in 2016 at the age of 91, Daphne discovered she had actually married the man in a registry office. Subsequent inquiries by Daphne and her family revealed that Joan hadn’t been able to remember her age or house number when she got married. The deputy registrar had interviewed her while the man was present and asked her if she knew why she was at the registrar’s office. She confirmed that she was there to marry the man, and based on her “demeanour”, the registrar believed she was entering freely into the union.

More questions should have been raised

Daphne believes that more questions should have been raised, given that her mother was 91, suffering from dementia, marrying someone much younger and with none of her family present. The witnesses included the man’s son and a woman from his pub quiz team.

The man inherited all of Joan’s estate. Joan was buried in an unmarked grave, as the man also had control of the funeral arrangements. Daphne says her mother would have preferred to have been cremated.

She is now campaigning to change the law so that a marriage does not revoke a Will. While she doesn’t think her mother was at the registrar’s office against her will, she considers that Joan did not have the mental capacity to know what she was doing.

Change in the laws needed

Daphne has approached her MP, Fabian Law, in a bid to push forward her campaign. In November 2018, the MP presented a private member’s bill, which received a private member’s bill, but it has progressed no further, thanks to Brexit.

If nothing changes, Daphne is convinced predatory marriages will become more common especially as more and more of the ageing population experiences dementia. She told the Guardian that if she managed to protect half a dozen families from going through what she’d done, it would be worth it.

Read about why Finders International is passionate about being Dementia Friends, and why it is important to us that our staff can identify people who may be suffering or vulnerable.


This article was submitted to be published by Finders International as part of their advertising agreement with Today’s Wills and Probate. The views expressed in this article are those of the submitter and not those of Today’s Wills and Probate.

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