Inheritance Wars (Episode 3)

Published on 3 Oct 2023

This Sunday’s episode of “Inheritance Wars – Who Gets the Money?” featured the disturbing case of Joan Blass and her daughter, Daphne Franks.

Joan was an 87 year old widow, who had vascular dementia, when she was befriended by a man whilst she was doing some gardening in her front garden. The man was about 62 years old. He soon moved into Joan’s house, unannounced. Daphne was only aware that he had moved in when she noticed his belongings in her mother’s house. Joan did not seem to know his name, or who he was. She kept asking her daughter, “Where does he live?” “Where does he come from?” and “Did you get him for me?” The man was extremely secretive and did not communicate with Daphne for a long period.

A few days after Joan died, aged 92, Daphne and her brother were extremely shocked to be told, by Joan’s GP, that Joan was a married woman when she died. The man had secretly married Joan just a few months before her death. Daphne did not believe that Joan had the necessary mental capacity to get married.

Joan had married at Leeds Registry Office, where the witnesses were two people unknown to Joan. Joan’s relatives received no notification of the impending wedding and the ceremony was not recorded in any way. Although Joan may not have been at the registry office against her will, Daphne believes that she simply would not have understood where she was or what she was doing.

Worse was to come. Joan’s secret wedding meant that her will was automatically revoked by law and the inheritance that she had been expecting to receive when Joan died was now going to Joan’s husband instead. Joan died without a will meaning that, under the intestacy laws, her husband inherited all of her personal property and belongings, the first £270,000 of her estate and half of the remainder. In this case, the £270,000 covered all of Joan’s estate. Daphne was particularly upset that she was not even entitled to Joan’s personal belongings, which included her grandfather’s letters from the First World War. In addition, since Joan’s husband was the personal representative of her estate, he was in sole charge of Joan’s funeral arrangements. Daphne knew that Joan wanted to be cremated but Joan’s husband arranged the funeral in secret, so Daphne and her brother were unable to attend, and he had Joan buried in an unmarked grave.

Daphne was understandably traumatised by what had happened. Joan’s case highlights lots of issues concerning adults who lack capacity (for example, because of dementia) being vulnerable to financial abuse, or “predatory marriage”. She wanted to ensure that this situation could not happen to anyone else. Daphne consulted her local MP, who raised the issue of predatory marriage in the House of Commons and brought a private members’ bill to parliament, relaying Joan’s story. Daphne also began a campaign to try to bring about a change in the law so that a will is not automatically revoked by marriage. Although Daphne has had some successes to date, such as the Forced Marriage Unit introducing some safeguarding training for registrars, the law currently remains that marriage revokes a will.

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