Picture this: an elderly man lives alone. He needs assistance, but his adult children are too far away or too busy to care for him. He hires a caregiver, a much younger woman. She is kind and attentive, never too busy to listen to him. In turn, he makes her feel appreciated, and is gentlemanly and generous, unlike so many men her own age. Against all odds, they fall deeply in love and decide to marry.
Or imagine this scenario: An elderly man lives alone, in declining health. His children have offered to help him find assisted living or to move near to them, but he is stubborn and refuses to see reason, insisting on staying in his home. Unfortunately, distance and the demands of his kids’ lives keep them from being able to check on him as they would like, and they suspect he’s growing confused and forgetful. He hires an aide to help him out at home. She is sly and pretends that she has fallen in love with him. In reality she is taking advantage of his failing health and declining mental state to persuade him that they should marry, so she will have unfettered access to his wealth.
You’ve probably already guessed that this is the same situation, viewed through two different lenses: the point of view of the elderly man, and that of his adult children. Of course, it’s not impossible for an older person and a much younger one to fall in love. But such situations, especially when the older person is wealthy, may legitimately make the senior’s family fear that he or she is being deliberately taken advantage of. When a marriage takes place under these circumstances, there’s a name for it: predatory marriage phenomenon.
The Rise in “Predatory Marriages”
Predatory marriages are more than just a younger woman looking for a “sugar daddy.” There are many marriages in which a younger woman pairs up with a wealthy older man. In those cases, both parties enter into the marriage willingly and knowingly. Neither may be marrying for true love, but both know what they’re getting into.
In a so-called predatory marriage, a younger person, often in a position of influence over a vulnerable elderly person, manipulates that person into agreeing to marriage for the sole purpose of accessing and inheriting the senior’s assets. While predatory marriages usually feature an older man and younger women, the reverse is also often found.
The elderly population in the United States is increasing due to the graying of the Baby Boom generation and people living longer than ever before. At the same time, this generation has amassed considerable wealth.
In Ontario, Canada, there have been a handful of reported court cases involving predatory marriage phenomenon. All involved a paid caregiver. The relatively few reported cases does not mean this is an infrequent issue, however—and it’s likely on the rise.
The elderly population in the United States is increasing due to the graying of the Baby Boom generation and people living longer than ever before. While people may be living longer, there have not been significant medical advances in treating or preventing cognitive decline. At the same time, this generation has amassed considerable wealth. This creates a perfect storm of frail, vulnerable elderly people who are dependent on others for help, and have assets that act as an incentive for unscrupulous individuals to take advantage of them.
Add in the fact that the children of the Baby Boomers tend, more than previous generations, to be highly mobile and move far from their parents. Older people are both lonely and in need of physical care that families used to provide. They may be grieving the loss of a spouse. Voila: a perfect opening for an unscrupulous caregiver or “friend.”
Protecting a Loved One from a Marriage Predator
If you suspect your parent or an elderly loved one is falling or has fallen prey to a manipulative caregiver, you’re in a delicate situation; the caregiver may be cold-hearted, but your parent may believe himself to be truly in love. He (or she) may view your efforts to protect them as meddling, perhaps motivated by greed about your inheritance, rather than genuine concern.
That said, proceed carefully—but do proceed. It’s easier to head trouble off at the pass than to fix problems later. If your parent has not yet married, but insists on doing so, you may want to encourage them to consult an attorney about a prenuptial agreement. Such a contract can protect their assets from a greedy spouse, and having an attorney broach the idea may go over better than hearing it from you.
If your parent is not willing to get a prenup or ask their future spouse to sign one, their lawyer may be able to persuade them to execute a new will in contemplation of the marriage. A new will might include a bequest to the new spouse, but could appropriately limit any inheritance. Another option is having your parent agree to place important assets, such as the family home, in a trust, so that they will remain in the family.
If your parent has married, you may try to have the marriage annulled on the basis of fraud. This is not always easy, especially if the parties involved want to remain married. Also, be aware that a marriage is not voidable after one of the parties has died, even if the marriage was induced by fraud. Time is of the essence, especially if your parent is in ill health.
Of course, as with so many things, the best time to act is before you need to. Take steps to help your parent develop an estate plan that will protect them now, and in the future.
Learn more about protecting loved ones from elder abuse: