Rules that could prevent vulnerable people falling victim to scammers and unintentionally disinheriting their family have taken a step closer to becoming law.
A bill submitted by Fabian Hamilton, Labour MP for Leeds North East, under the 10 Minute Rule in parliament today (November 21), outlined the need for legislation to close loopholes that allow fraudsters to dupe susceptible people into marriage or civil partnership for their wealth.
Under current rules, a couple need only to prove neither party is committing to union under duress in order to get married, but Mr Hamilton said in some cases that did not go far enough.
The bill, as it stands, seeks to change the rule that all wills should be revoked after someone is remarried or enters a civil partnership, and ensure that all intention to marry notices are displayed on the internet, not just in a physical location.
It also seeks to provide training for registrars to be alert to a potential lack of medical or mental capacity of those requesting a union.
The MP said consent should have to be proven to a registrar before a marriage or civil partnership could take place to ensure both parties were aware of the potential outcomes of their actions.
He recounted a story of one of his constituents whose mother had married at the age of 91 to someone who had appeared to have engineered the relationship for capital gain.
The constituent said she did not know that her mother, who suffered from vascular dementia, had married the man until after her death – and was not sure her mother was aware of it either.
As soon as the mother remarried, the mother’s will was declared null and void, leaving the family with no recourse on her estate. The constituent, who previously had power of attorney over her mother’s affairs, did not realise this was the case.
Mr Fabian said such cases were becoming known as "predatory marriages" and his bill would go some way to avoid them taking place.
Heather Roberts, will disputes expert at Irwin Mitchell Private Wealth, said such alleged "gold-digging" incidents were on the rise.
Ms Roberts said: "We often see instances where even if someone has capacity to make a new will after the marriage, they don’t realise that they need to and sometimes are completely unaware their marriage has revoked their previous will."
She said the new spouse could end up inheriting everything under the intestacy rules, or at least a large portion of the estate.
"A change in the law is definitely needed to protect the vulnerable elderly from this type of financial exploitation, and the proposed bill is a good start," she said.
Mr Fabian’s bill received approval to go forward for a second reading, which will take place on January 25, next year.