In recent years, there has been a concerning rise in predatory marriage, a practice that exploits vulnerable individuals for financial gain. This issue has become more prevalent recently for various reasons, including an aging population, higher rates of dementia, and changes in intestacy laws that favour spouses and civil partners. However, there is hope on the horizon with the Law Commission's proposals to address this problem.
The Law Commission, in its 2017 consultation paper "Making a Will," provisionally proposed that marriage should not automatically revoke a will when a person lacks testamentary capacity. However, the Commission's thinking has evolved since then. Instead of focusing on revocation in cases where testamentary capacity is absent, it now takes the view that a decision needs to be made as to whether marriage or civil partnership should, or should not, revoke a will in any circumstances.
This shift in perspective stems from the Commission's work on weddings law and feedback received during the consultation process. It became apparent that creating a specific exception for individuals lacking testamentary capacity at the time of marriage would not be workable. Additionally, the Commission acknowledges that the current rule may not align with societal norms, particularly with the increase in second marriages where testators may wish to continue providing for members of their previous family.
To gain further insight, the Law Commission opened a Wills consultation which ended in December 2023. The body is currently analysing responses to the consultation, which will inform the development of its final recommendations for reform. The remaining stages of the work will be to develop a final policy, prepare a final report and instruct Parliamentary Counsel to draft a bill that would give effect to its recommendations.
While changing the law to prevent marriage or civil partnership from automatically revoking a will may not completely eradicate the issue of predatory marriage, it would eliminate one of its most significant consequences. By removing the financial incentive for predatory marriages, such a change could act as a deterrent to potential predators seeking to exploit vulnerable individuals.
It is important to note that the Law Commission's project is still in the consultation stage and any change to the law that they may propose, following analysis of the views they receive, would require parliamentary approval. Nevertheless, it is encouraging to see efforts being made to look at this problem with a view to protecting the rights of vulnerable people.
See our previous post for more detail on predatory marriage here.