‘Deathbed Marriages’ Vulnerable to Challenges

Don’t Let Your Love get Challenged in Court

Losing a spouse is never easy. For some, it’s even more difficult because of the circumstances. For example,  losing a spouse when you’re in a “deathbed marriage.”  A deathbed marriage is between two people where one isn’t going to live much longer. Maybe one of the couples is 95 years old. Or, maybe one of the couples is terminally ill. Whatever the reason, usually there us a much younger person marrying someone who will die soon. And, in most deathbed marriages, relatives look at the younger person in a very suspicious manner.

There’s more to it than money…

It’s important to note that not every deathbed marriage is malicious in nature. Unlike the movies, there’s usually not an opportunistic con artist involved. No one is marrying the dying person to gain access to their estate or fortune. Rather, deathbed marriages are a way for same-sex couples to secure legal and financial rights. Remember, prior to 2015, same-sex marriages were not even legal in every state. The Human Rights Campaign has an excellent article about same-sex marriages called: The Journey to Marriage Equality in the United States.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way

However, even without sinister intent, deathbed marriages face legal complications. Generally, these complications happen when there isn’t a will. Furthermore, most complications arise when the dying partner has children from a prior relationship. The children may resent the sudden intrusion of a new spouse claiming rights to a share of the estate. And to protect what they feel is “theirs”, the children may seek to get the marriage nullified. Usually they attempt to have it nullified on grounds that the dying partner wasn’t mentally or physically competent to enter the marriage.

It’s easier to contest a will in some states than others. In Florida, it’s fairly easy to challenge deathbed marriages since you only need to prove fraud, duress, or undue influence by a preponderance of the evidence. In other words, Florida requires a low standard of proof. Although wills help strengthen a new spouse’s claim to property, they’re not ironclad and are challengeable on the grounds of incapacity or undue influence. That’s why it’s best for married couples to consult with a good family law attorney, especially if you’re in a deathbed marriage.  A family law attorney will help you create an estate plan that will survive challenges by other parties.

Of course, if you suspect a loved one is being lured into a deathbed marriage for fraudulent reasons, talk to a lawyer about your rights. Please reach out to us if you need a referral for a family law attorney.