News | June 25, 2024

For better, for worse: a cautionary tale after Langley v Qin

According to the Law Commission, a predatory marriage is one where a person marries someone, often someone who is elderly or who lacks the mental capacity to marry, as a form of financial abuse. They might, for example, marry an elderly person in order to inherit from them. The recent court case of Langley v Qin illustrated the issues arising where an elderly person is targeted by a much younger person for their money.

In this case, Jill Langley, the daughter of the deceased Robert Harrington, brought proceedings against Guixiang Qin on the grounds that Ms Qin had arranged a predatory marriage to Mr Harrington, and that the Will he made in her favour after the marriage was invalid as a result of undue influence and Mr Harrington’s lack of testamentary capacity. Mr Harrington was 93 and Qin was 54 when they married, a year after Mr Harrington lost his first wife of 66 years. The court set aside the Will made after the predatory marriage but, by law, all earlier Wills made by Mr Harrington were automatically revoked by the predatory marriage and could not be revived. As a consequence, Mr Harrington died intestate. This meant that Ms Qin still stood to inherit under the laws of intestacy, as the surviving spouse, the fixed net sum of £270,000 and half of the residue of the estate. Jill Langley, as the surviving child, inherited the other half of the residuary estate. The Court had no power to set aside the predatory marriage now that Mr Harrington had died.

Prior to the announcement of a General Election, the Law Commission was considering recommendations for a change in the law so that a Will is not automatically revoked by a later marriage. It is hoped that this reform project will be picked up by the new government.

If you suspect that someone you know is vulnerable in similar circumstances, or if you know a marriage is about to take place and you have concerns about a party’s mental capacity, please contact us to discuss what can be done to safeguard them. Equally, if you are about to be married, bear in mind that any existing Will you have will be automatically revoked by law by the marriage, and you should consider making a new Will after the marriage has taken place or a Will made in contemplation of the marriage.