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Predatory Marriages: Till death do “you” part

Posted on 30th April 2019

For the most part, the motives of people entering into a marriage or civil partnership are genuine in that couples pledge vows and their love to one another, with the intention of remaining together until death do they part. But what if death was an ulterior motive?

More commonly known in pop culture as “gold digging”, predatory marriages are viewed as marriages or civil partnerships orchestrated in order for one spouse to obtain the wealth of another upon death.

What does that law state about Wills in this case?

Under the current law, any previous Will made by an individual is revoked upon marriage or civil partnership unless made in contemplation of these nuptials. This has allowed predators to target vulnerable wealthy individuals (who are often elderly or suffering from mental health conditions) and fraudulently work their way into a position of trust. These predators may become carers or otherwise become closely trusted by the vulnerable person and then convince the individual to become their spouse without the knowledge of their family.

It may not be until the death of these vulnerable individuals that families become aware that a marriage has taken place, revoking any previous Will. If no new Will has been drafted following these nuptials then all or the substantial part of the estate will pass to the new spouse under the Intestacy rules.

The Marriage and Civil Partnership (Consent) Bill

The Marriage and Civil Partnership (Consent) Bill has been proposed to Parliament to provide an opportunity for families to contest predatory marriages. At present the threshold test for marriage is particularly low and only requires an individual to have the mental capacity to understand the nature of a marriage contract and the duty and responsibilities which it entails. There is currently no obligation for a registrar to seek a medical opinion on mental capacity.

Without the requisite mental capacity, a person is unable to make a valid Will. Therefore if individuals are able to meet the current low requirements to go through a marriage or civil partnership, they may not meet the threshold required to make a Will once finalised.

The proposed Bill is currently awaiting its second reading in Parliament and aims to:

  1. Repeal legislation revoking Wills upon marriage and civil partnership;
  2. Provide better training to registrars to ensure both parties have capacity to enter a marriage or civil partnership;
  3. Require couples to complete questionnaires before a ceremony to highlight whether a medical opinion is required; and
  4. Require a notice of intention of a marriage to be published on the internet to allow families to be informed of any upcoming wedding, particularly if they are not told or invited.

Until this becomes law, it is advised that people consider the current situation of their Will or whether to put their first one in place. Please contact the Private Client Team at Hodge Jones and Allen Solicitors for further information on our Will drafting services.

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