Older, vulnerable people are increasingly being targeted by fraudsters marrying them so they can inherit their estates, according to a recent feature in iNews.

Some 70 people came forward to share their stories, wanting to warn others to protect their elderly relatives from scammers who marry for money. In addition, charities have warned that “grooming” of older people by fraudsters for financial gain is a growing phenomenon.

Campaigners have met with the Ministry of Justice to talk about ways the law can be changed to make sure people are mentally capable of agreeing to marry someone.

Secret marriage

The feature highlighted a case that had been raised during Prime Minister’s Questions in June relating to a 91-year-old woman, Joan Blass, with advanced vascular dementia and terminal cancer who died in March 2016. A few days after her death, her family discovered that she’d “secretly married” a man 20 years her junior five months earlier.

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Upon her death, the legal loophole where marriage automatically revokes a previous Will was exploited, making the new husband her sole beneficiary. Joan’s previous Will had left everything to her son and daughter.

After the matter was raised at PMQs, 70 people came forward – many of them sharing similar stories to that of Joan’s family, where women with dementia married men 20, 30 or even 40 years younger than them, and subsequently inherited their entire estates. Many of the affected families said they didn’t know when the wedding had taken place, and in some cases even the funerals.

Father targeted in church

One woman told the news site that her father had been targeted by someone in church while the family were mourning the death of her mother. The daughter said the woman befriended her father and began helping herself to his money and changed her account fraudulently so that she could present herself at the bank as his wife.

She married the man the following year and isolated her day from his family while she stripped his bank accounts, pensions and other assets. The man died in 2018, by which time the woman had already taken £200,000 from him. She then applied to court under the Inheritance Act to receive the rest of his estate. As the man’s family couldn’t defend the case, they had to pay her off with £100,000.

Another woman said her 66-year-old mother who has dementia but is otherwise fit and healthy has been engaged to two men the family believed were unsuitable, and that it was hard to protect her from them.

‘Predatory woman’

One woman whose father had been befriended and married by someone she called a “predatory woman” suggested more should be done to prevent such marriages taking places. If, for example, a frail, elderly person turned up a registry office with a member of their family, the registrar should check if the person had been flagged up as vulnerable, and not go ahead with the ceremony until further enquiries had taken place.

She added that witnesses in such dubious circumstances should face a punishment as a deterrent.

Daphne Franks, the daughter of Joan Blass, said predators tended to fit the same pattern. They called themselves carers or were even employed as carers, and then try to isolate the elderly person from their family and marry them.

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