The Wall Street Journal ran an article on June 11, 2011 entitled “Unholy Matrimony: How to Fight Back” about the growing problem of deathbed marriages between an elderly patient and their money-seeking caregiver. These cases differ from the normal case where a caregiver gets the elderly person to change their will to benefit the caregiver because the family can contest the will on the basis that the elderly person didn’t have testamentary capacity or was being unduly influenced by the caregiver. In the “predatory marriage” cases however, the only person who can annul a marriage is one of the spouses. If the family doesn’t find out about the marriage until after death it is too late in many states for the family to take action. The laws of many states allow marriage property rights to take precedence over estate planning.
The Journal article details the problems that families face when the “predatory marriages” take place. The increase in such cases may be related to dementia and increasing life spans.The article cites examples such as where an adult daughter left her elderly father in the care of a longtime friend while she took a short vacation. In one week, the friend married the father, started transferring assets into joint accounts and named herself his pension beneficiary. The children learned of the marriage a month later. When they confronted their father, he recalled nothing about it. In another case, a hired caretaker secretly married her charge of nine years about a year before his death. She told his children about it the day before his funeral.
With our aging population, some states are trying to address these predatory practices by making it easier for family members to unwind these twilight marriages. Some new laws give the family the right to contest the marriage even after the death of the elderly spouse. Texas Estates Code §123.102 is Texas’ attempt to counter this problem. Other state courts have ruled that a fraud was committed because the elderly person didn’t know what they were doing. Hopefully, all of the states will address this problem before more families are hurt.
While the elderly have always been victimized by so called “caregivers” who try to manipulate the elderly to obtain their property, the avenue that the modern money-seeking caregiver is using is a secret marriage. The elderly need to be protected.
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By Robert Ray a Board Certified attorney. The foregoing information is general in nature and does not apply to every fact situation. We handle litigation involving inheritance disputes. We don’t prepare wills. We don’t file wills for probate or distribute estates except when we are contesting a will or protecting a will from a contest. We handle a select few cases on contingency. Don’t use a comment to ask a personal question about an inheritance issue because your name and comment will be public. To ask a litigation question and to protect your privacy, click the red button to the right.