Older people need better safeguards against predatory marriage

I was deeply saddened to read Daphne Franks’ account of her mother falling prey to a predatory marriage (Daphne Franks: the woman who lost her much-loved mother to a predatory marriage, 15 September). Solicitors for the Elderly, the membership body that specialises in supporting older and vulnerable people, has seen a steady 13% increase in these types of cases. Frustratingly, once a marriage has been officiated, there are few protections in place for the victim or their family. It’s also impossible to annul a marriage after death – even with proof of coercion or of the victim’s lack of mental capacity. This leaves families who wish to reclaim their loved one’s estate with drawn-out litigation. Legal disputes are emotionally and financially draining.

As a society we need to ensure that there are better safeguards for vulnerable people in the community. We need to make sure that capacity testing is rigorous and that medical records proving dementia, or any other capacity-limiting diseases, are properly understood and taken into account by registrars before approving suspicious marriages.

Any person who has entered a predatory marriage should be encouraged to have it annulled. If they don’t have the mental capacity, it is possible to make an application to the court of protection to do so. If they do have capacity, they should also be encouraged to make a new will as the marriage will have revoked any previous will. They should also consider a lasting power of attorney.

If a person doesn’t have capacity to make a will, an application for a statutory will can be made to the court of protection. In such cases, it’s best to seek the expertise of a specialist lawyer experienced in working with vulnerable and older people.