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The episode ‘For Richer, For Poorer’ on BBC Sounds aims to cover the vulnerabilities that adults with Dementia may face when entering into a marriage. Datshiane Navanayagam, who regularly reports for BBC and Channel 4, spoke to a number of families who had been the subject of a ‘predatory marriage’.

Predatory marriages happen when a vulnerable adult, often with Dementia, is deliberately targeted and led into marriage potentially for financial gain. For example, ‘For Richer, For Poorer’ covers the story of a lady (Joan) in her 90’s who suffered from Dementia. Joan was living alone following the death of her husband and was befriended by a man over 20 years younger than her. He moved into the property and family became very concerned as she often couldn’t recall who he was or why he was living at the property. Following the death of Joan, it became apparent that a marriage had taken place in ‘secret’ and as a result, the partner was entitled to Joan’s entire estate.

Under Section 18 of the Wills Act 1837, when you marry, any existing Will is automatically revoked (cancelled) and is no longer valid. If you do not make a new one then under the intestacy rules, your entire estate will pass to your husband or wife. In the case above, this meant that Joan’s children and wider family were disinherited.

How does this happen?

Mental Capacity is assessed on the specific decision in question. Generally, the requisite capacity and understanding to execute a Will is higher than it is to enter into a marriage. Furthermore, the registrar, responsible for completing the legal ceremony, does not have medical training to assess Dementia and this may lead to a marriage taking place where one party lacks capacity.

Are there any legal remedies?

If family members of a loved one with Dementia become aware of the marriage during their lifetime then they may apply to court for an annulment of marriage. For further advice, please contact our Family team by calling 08000 147720 or email

If it is clear that they do not have the requisite capacity to execute a new Will then family may decide to apply to the Court of Protection for a Statutory Will. This means that the court will make a Will on behalf of the person who no longer has capacity. If you are concerned about a loved ones existing Will, please contact our Court of Protection team on + to discuss how we can help.