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6 January 2022 | Comment | Article by Laura Metcalfe

Predatory Marriages – What action can be taken to protect a vulnerable individual?

The media has recently reported that due to an ageing population and a rise in dementia that society is seeing an increase in the number of ‘Predatory Marriages’. A ‘Predatory Marriage’ occurs when an individual, who is lacking capacity, is targeted by an unscrupulous person who wishes to use the individual’s vulnerability to their advantage by coercing the individual into a marriage with them purely for financial gain.

It is understood that such unscrupulous individuals have become wise to the fact that if they are merely named as a beneficiary of a vulnerable person’s will that there is a strong possibility that the will may be challenged or overturned on the grounds of undue influence or mental capacity. However, they understand that in accordance with the 1837 Wills Act a marriage will automatically revoke a will, entitling the spouse to be eligible to inherit from their deceased spouse’s estate. As a result it is apparent that these unscrupulous individuals are considering marriage as the best course of action when trying to gain access to a vulnerable person’s estate.

What will often happen in these cases is that the vulnerable individual, who is suffering with capacity issues, is ‘befriended’ by an individual who enters their life in the role of a friend or carer. Many families have described their relative’s new friend or carer as initially being incredibly friendly to them and their relative’s friends. Over time the unscrupulous individual will infiltrate the life of the vulnerable person, often ‘love-bombing’ them to forge a ‘romantic’ relationship. At this stage many family members have stated that their relative’s new partner then starts to become very cold towards family and friends causing the vulnerable individual to become isolated from their nearest and dearest. A marriage is then arranged, often in secret, so that this new relationship is legally bound.

Many families have stated that when they have attempted to raise concerns surrounding such marriages with the relevant authorities that these unscrupulous individuals respond by stating that it is merely an example of their new spouse’s family being jealous and unsupportive of the new relationship. This serves to paint the picture of a loving new spouse and a bitter family who are only concerned as to how this new relationship will affect their inheritance.

One family has even stated that when they raised their concerns with the police that they were advised that even though the police understood that this was an example of fraud and a type of abuse that they did not have the tools to prosecute.

As a result, there is currently a campaign being led called ‘Predatory Marriages UK’ which is aiming to reform the current marriage laws to protect people with dementia. The purpose of the reform is to:

  • Change the law so that marriage no longer revokes a will.
  • Make ‘Predatory Marriage’ an offence.
  • Ensure that notices of a couple’s intention to marry be published online or in a database, rather than just displayed outside the register office.
  • Ensure that training be provided to registrars to ensure they can identify the signs of insufficient mental capacity to marry.
  • Provide the ability to annul marriages if they are found to have occurred without mental capacity
  • Ensure that a check for Power of Attorney is completed prior to the marriage. If a vulnerable person has an appointed Power of Attorney to look after their affairs, that person should be informed and consulted before the marriage can take place.

However, whilst such reforms are still being considered many families wonder whether there are any steps that can be taken now, should they be concerned about a vulnerable family member being taken advantage of in this way.

We recommend that the first step would be to seek the advice of a solicitor to arrange either a Lasting Power of Attorney or Deputyship for the management of the vulnerable individual’s financial affairs. Where a Lasting Power of Attorney or a Deputy is appointed that person is responsible for managing the property and financial affairs of an individual when they lack the metal capacity to manage these themselves.

When the solicitor is deciding whether either a Lasting Power of Attorney or a Deputyship is the most appropriate course of action consideration is given to whether the vulnerable individual has capacity.

Where an individual has capacity they can enter into a Lasting Power of Attorney document which states who they would want to manage their financial affairs should they lose capacity in the future. However, if the individual does not have capacity it will not be possible for a Lasting Power of Attorney to be put in place. In these cases, an application would instead need to be made to the Court of Protection for someone to be appointed as the individual’s deputy. The appropriate course of action would therefore be discussed in more detail during the initial meeting with the solicitor.

Should you wish to discuss your concerns regarding a vulnerable family member and the appointment of either a Lasting Power of Attorney or a Deputy in more detail please do not hesitate to contact the Court of Protection team today.

Author bio

Laura is an Associate in the Court of Protection Team within the Serious Injury Department. Working within the Court of Protection Team Laura specialises in providing professional deputy input to those who lack the necessary capacity to manage and administer their own finances.

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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