Inheritance hunters, exploiting older, vulnerable people is on the increase according to charities such as ‘Age UK.’ The issue hasn’t gone unnoticed by Labour MP Fabian Hamilton who is currently lobbying for changes to the law to help combat such exploitation.
Inheritance hunters are people who seek out and exploit older people, often with dementia, who have a ‘healthy,’ sizeable estate. It’s worth remembering that those over 50 control 70% of the nation’s wealth and that many seniors do not realise the value of their assets.
Inheritance hunters befriend, groom and eventually marry their victims, despite often large age differences, in order to get hold of their wealth. This is achieved through the Inheritance Hunters process of ‘gaslighting,’ a form of abise where the victim is manipulated into questioning their thoughts about once close family members to include siblings and children.
As the law presently stands, a marriage revokes any previously made wills even when the bride or groom has dementia. Fabian Hamilton has been campaigning for the law to change since 2018 and last month, raised the issue at Prime Ministers Questions as well as having discussions with Junior Justice Minister Lord Wilson.
Fabian Hamilton stated “This is an issue of justice and fairness and stopping the few unscrupulous people from exploiting what I believe is a loophole in the law.” Since the issue was highlighted by campaigners last month, more than 70 families have come forward to reveal that they too have been victims of inheritance scams.
Joel Lewis, a policy manager at Age UK said “these cases are the tip of the iceberg as they are just the ones people know about. Better training needs to be available to registrars to recognise diminished mental capacity of victims and the manipulative behaviour of fraudsters, he said, adding that they “often gaslight and manipulate them and remove them from sources of support so they place all their trust in the fraudster rather than family members looking out for them”.
The daughter of a 91-year old woman who secretly married a man 20 years her junior, despite being diagnosed with dementia, began the campaigns for a change in the law back in 2016. Daphne Franks said she knew nothing about her mother Joan’s marriage, and when she died, consequently lost all of her inheritance after her mother’s will was revoked.
Daphne lost a court case against her mother’s new husband after he maintained that Joan was mentally capable of making the decision to marry. But Joan’s family say that she didn’t have the mental capacity to marry or make the decision and that she wouldn’t have remembered the ceremony taking place.
Red Flags to look out for:
- The appearance and rapid visitation frequency of a ‘new friend,’ particularly someone of the opposite sex and younger.
- Increasing isolation or avoidance of once-usual social contact, particularly with family.
- Increasing timidity, nervousness and a lack of self-confidence.
Things you can do:
- Make your presence known to the suspected perpetrator and alert other family members and friends. This can sometimes be enough to ‘scare them off.’
- Contact the Police. Whilst there is nothing much they can do, the individual might be known to them and help confirm your suspicions.
- Contact Adult Social Care or Office of the Public Guardian to assist.
- Consider asking the local authority to place the vulnerable adult into safe keeping.
For enquiries about obtaining Power of Attorney for elderly family members and loved ones and to discuss estates and making a Will, talk to Dunham McCarthy.