Predatory Marriage: What are your Options?

Old Young MarriageYou might’ve heard that Hugh Hefner is getting married — yet again — at the end of this week. Keep in mind that Hugh is 85 years old and is engaged to a 24-year-old former Playmate. In other words, Hugh was a little over 60 when his soon-to-be wife was born. While it’s not really the purpose of this blog to criticize Mr. Hefner’s lifestyle, one could reasonably question his bride-to-be’s motives.

As our population grows older, you may hear more stories about “predatory marriage”. This is when a younger — usually much younger — person marries an older person without the family’s knowledge. When the person dies, his or her new spouse emerges on the Will as the beneficiary to assets that should otherwise go to the family. For example, in one extreme case, an adult daughter left her elderly father with a family friend while the daughter went on a weeklong vacation. In that week, the family friend married the woman’s father, transferred some of his assets to a joint account, and named herself his pension beneficiary. The man’s children found out about the marriage a month later; when they asked him about it, he couldn’t remember anything about the arrangement.

In many states, such arrangements are difficult to challenge as inheritance rights of widows and widowers often trump estate-planning documents. In a few states, however, courts and legislators are trying to make it easier for families to challenge these predatory marriages. Florida is one such state; last year, a law was passed that allows heirs to challenge any marriage, even after a spouse’s death, on the ground of fraud, duress, or undue influence. Such statutes often have legal implications regarding the Constitutional right to marry; however, Florida’s law does not infringe that right but instead alters the property rights associated with marriage.

Nevertheless, it is important that you take care when seeking a caregiver for your elderly relatives or friends. Conduct a background check on potential caregivers. Discuss power of attorney with your parents, or place assets in a trust. Asset protection is one of the many important things you need to consider, so you should contact a Jacksonville Estate Planning Attorney as soon as you can. Should you need to discuss your available options in challenging a predatory marriage, speak with a Jacksonville Family Law Attorney to discuss your legal options.

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