Daughter’s campaign to stop predatory marriage

A woman whose dementia-diagnosed mother ended up marrying a man who then inherited her estate when the mother died is campaigning to change the law.

Interviewed in the Guardian this week, Daphne Franks set up her campaign group after her mother, Joan Blass, died in 2016. After her mother’s death, Mrs Franks discovered Colman Folan, who had been hanging around her mother for some time had married her in a registry office, making him her legal heir.

Mr Folan was 24 years younger than Mrs Blass. According to Mrs Franks, they met when her mother was 87, when she’d been outside in her garden and had invited him into the house. By that point, Mrs Blass had been a widow for three years and had been diagnosed with vascular dementia.

Mother didn’t remember his name

Mrs Franks noticed Mr Folan then started turning up at her mother’s house on a regular basis, although she said her mother had difficulty remembering his name and referred to him as “Laddo”, and that she sometimes asked her daughter if she’d got him for her

Mrs Franks questioned Mr Folan about what he was doing, but he gave evasive answers or refused to tell her anything. Often he would take Mrs Blass on day trips and would only say they’d been “out and about” when asked.

Worried about the situation, Mrs Franks contacted her GP who told her she should inform social services, but a social worker found nothing of concern because Mrs Blass was clean, well fed and did not seem distressed.

Secret marriage

Mr Folan later sold his house and moved in with Mrs Blass, locking the door from the inside so that Mrs Franks no longer had easy access. When Mrs Blass died aged 91 in March 2016, the family found out about the secret marriage, which had automatically revoked Mrs Blass’s existing will, so that Mr Folan inherited everything and was allowed to dictate the funeral.

Mrs Blass was buried in an unmarked grave and Mr Folan stayed in her house, which had been built in the grounds of Mrs Franks’ family home. He has since remarried.

Mrs Franks sold her own home and left. She has been contacted by hundreds of families who have experienced the same thing. As the bar for mental capacity is high, changing a will would have been impossible for her mother, Mrs Franks says, but in England (unlike Scotland), marriage revokes a will. Their spouse will automatically inherit the personal property and belongings, the first £270,000 of the estate and half the remaining estate.

Marriage revoking the will

She began campaigning to stop marriage revoking a Will in England in 2017 and created a website. When she brought the issue to the attention of her MP, Fabian Hamilton, he presented a private member’s bill, which received its first reading but has progressed no further because of Brexit.

Mrs Franks has befriended many of the people who have contacted her through her website. She says the stories are very familiar – the person “love bombing” their victim, and then isolating them from their family before whisking them away to get married.

She told the Guardian she wanted to bring about change to help protect more people, and that she was absolutely determined to do it.

Finders International have a range of Legal Support Services to assist solicitors and other legal professionals including our Missing Will Service, Unclaimed Assets and Overseas Bankruptcy Searches.  To find out more, please visit our website.  Alternatively, you can email [email protected] or telephone +44(0) 20 7490 4935.