My client told me that her 91 year old sister had never been married and never even had a boyfriend, but she met a nice 88 year old gentleman and now she was getting married to him after knowing him for a very short period of time. True love? Scam?
We frequently hear of someone convincing an elder to change their will or trust for the other person’s benefit, or even using what the law describes as undue influence, but what about a marriage? There have been a couple of high profile cases of this in our area in the last few years — both involved men who had declining mental capacity and the court later determined that they had been taken advantage of by women who married them for their assets.
In one case, the stepdaughter divorced her husband and began wearing her deceased mother’s clothing and perfume to convince her stepfather that she was his loving wife who had returned from the grave. The stepdaughter then took him to Reno and married him! When the details came to light following the man’s death, the court determined that the man perhaps thought he was remarrying his wife who had already died, but he certainly didn’t know that he was marrying his stepdaughter.
The other case involved a man from Norway who lived in San Jose and had no wife or children, but he had $2 million and he was leaving it all to his relatives in Norway. When he died and the family went searching for his estate, it turned out that his estate planning attorney had married him and she was claiming that all of the money had been left to her! He had gone to her for help and she was now claiming that as his wife, everything was hers. However, they had never told anyone about the marriage and they had never lived together, so the court determined that the gentleman wasn’t even aware that he got married. It was the court’s opinion that the man had been scammed and the court directed that his assets were to go to his heirs in Norway. The attorney appealed and continued to claim that she was his legitimate wife, but she lost again on appeal and the heirs in Norway eventually received their rightful inheritance.
These are interesting stories that actually happened in our area.
Marrying for money is a growing scam and it’s a form of elder abuse that is spreading rapidly. Is it abuse, or is it love? Sometimes it’s true love, and sometimes it’s not. How do you tell? There is no federal law on marriage as a form of elder abuse, and state laws vary from state to state. The mental capacity required for marriage is extremely low, so how do you prevent an elder from being scammed? It’s difficult. If the elder is isolated and not in regular contact with family and friends, people other than the scammer aren’t aware of what’s happening. That’s the problem. It’s hard to correct when many months or years have already passed since the marriage occurred.
Talk to your parents and loved ones if you’re concerned. Find out if they are financially “assisting” someone else or if a new “friend” has suddenly entered their life. You should also look for signs of stress or loneliness, especially after the death of a loved one.
We often use special irrevocable Medi-Cal trusts to protect an elder’s assets in the event that they need to go to a nursing home, but these irrevocable trusts have the added advantage of moving the assets beyond the reach of the elder. This generally prevents most of the elder abuse that occurs in situations when the elder is coerced into making changes in the distribution of their assets.
Call our office if we can assist you or a loved one create an estate plan to better protect assets from elder abuse.