Sweetheart scams: late-in-life marriages becoming common form of elder abuse

a growing trend of scammers marrying much older in order to gain access to finances, property and other assets. Elderly women and men are targeted fairly equally in the “sweetheart scam.” Typically, after a retiree’s spouse has died, a much younger friend enters the picture, and becomes very close to the vulnerable older person. Eventually, whether for love or companionship, the elder person decides to make it official and marry the younger. When the elder passes on, the younger person then has claims to all the finances and property, even if he or she was not specifically listed in the will, because of how marriage in the U.S. has been set up. The surviving spouse typically is entitled to their partner’s wealth, because even if the marriage is a sham, there is no way to prove it once the elder partner is deceased. Further, California laws have made this issue more complicated because it provides allowances for an “Omitted Spouse Doctrine,” where an elderly person can receive a “confidential” marriage in which they can marry without the other person having to be present at the courthouse in order to get the marriage license. In this way, families of elderly relatives can find themselves blindsided when, after their relative has died, they find out that Grandma or Grandpa was married. Unfortunately, at this point in time there is little recourse for those who suspect their family members may be being scammed. Many states have determined that if the person had the mental capacity to enter into marriage, they have the legal right to do so. According to Julie Schoen, the deputy director of the National Center on Elder Abuse, “The legal definition of capacity is different than the medical definition, and a person’s capacity can fluctuate, so it’s really difficult to prove.”]]>

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