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3 July 2024 | Comment | Article by Ryan Taylor

The dangers of predatory marriage and options for families

Emily Welch, trainee solicitor in our London Private Wealth Disputes team writes on predatory marriages and recent case law in this area.

What is predatory marriage?

A predatory marriage is one founded upon the exploitation of a vulnerable person – coercing them into marrying another individual, often for financial gain. Predators usually target older individuals who may be suffering from a cognitive impairment, or other vulnerabilities.

The test for capacity to marry has a low threshold and is lower than the test for testamentary capacity (the ability to make a will). This is something we have considered in our previous article “Marriage, wills and capacity”.

Because predatory marriage may be arranged away from the view/knowledge of family and friends, families may need to turn to the courts to try and protect their interests and those of the victim.

The recent judgement from the County Court at Central London in the case of Langley v Qin highlights the difficulties families may face when there is an alleged predatory marriage.

Background to the case

In this case, the victim Mr Robert Harrington, died in May 2020 aged 94. Just under a year before his death, at the age of 93, he married Ms Guixiang Qin, who was his carer and then aged 54. Following this marriage, Mr Harrington executed a will leaving his estate to Ms Qin and naming her as the sole executrix. This will excluded his daughter, Ms Jill Langley who disputed the validity of the will.

It was alleged that Mr Qin had married Mr Harrington in what was alleged to be a predatory marriage – though this was not the direct subject of the claim.

Outcome of the case

Mr Harrington’s daughter, Ms Langley, contested his will on the grounds of lack of testamentary capacity, lack of knowledge and approval and undue influence. Witness evidence about Mr Harrington’s state of mind over the years, as well as expert medical evidence was submitted to the court in support of the claim the will was invalid.

On considering the evidence before it, the judge found in favour of Ms Langley and the will of Mr Harrington was declared invalid and subsequently set aside.

Can the court revoke a marriage after death?

The courts do not have the power to set aside a predatory marriage after death (as confirmed in Re Roberts [1978] 1 WLR 653).

The difficulty with the court being unable to set aside a predatory marriage is that marriage automatically revokes any earlier wills, unless a will is specifically made in contemplation of marriage. In this case, although the disputed will was held to be invalid by the court, due to Mr Harrington and Ms Qin’s marriage – there was no known earlier will (following the marriage) to turn to. Because of this Mr Harrington’s estate passes under the laws of intestacy.

Because of the court’s inability to revoke a marriage after death, Ms Qin stands to inherit a fixed sum of £270,000 and half of Mr Harrington’s remaining estate, despite her actions. She will, though, have to pay the indemnity costs of Ms Langley following her loss in the case.

Can the family of the deceased bring a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975?

Following death, and if there is no previous valid will to turn to, it may be possible for family members to bring a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 to reclaim some of their inheritance, although this will only be possible in specific circumstances.

Should the law change?

The rule that marriage revokes a will is one of the issues that the Law Commission is currently reviewing within its “Making a Will: A Supplementary Consultation Paper” (published in October 2023). The consultation period has now ended, and the outcome of the consultation is awaited.

Many view this as an area in need of change, particularly when the impact of predatory marriages can mean alleged perpetrators can still benefit.


This case highlights how elderly and/or ill individuals can be manipulated and influenced to the detriment of family members. Whilst this may appear a victory for Ms Langley, and she will now receive some benefit under the intestacy rules, the case serves as a reminder of the court’s inability to assist in scenarios where there may be a predatory marriage, due to the law on automatic revocation of former wills upon marriage.

When families have concerns over a loved one being at risk of a predatory marriage, they should act promptly to intervene before the marriage takes place. This could include lodging a caveat against the marriage, but should certainly include taking early legal advice.

Our Private Wealth Disputes team are experts in assisting clients with predatory marriages, challenging a will, or any other contentious probate matters. If you need advice, then our team would be happy to discuss any concerns you may have.

Key contact

Ryan Taylor

Senior Associate

Ryan Taylor is a Senior Associate in the Private Wealth Disputes team, working in the London office. He has considerable experience in the field of litigated estates and trusts, where he advises clients in relation to beneficiary disputes, claims on estates, disputes over wills, and contentious Court of Protection matters. He acts both for executors seeking to defend estates; and disappointed beneficiaries in seeking to claim further provision and/or dispute the validity of wills. His practise also deals with trust disputes and arguments over the beneficial entitlement to land and property.

Disclaimer: The information on the Hugh James website is for general information only and reflects the position at the date of publication. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be treated as such. If you would like to ensure the commentary reflects current legislation, case law or best practice, please contact the blog author.


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