Solicitors are divided on whether a marriage or civil partnership should automatically revoke a will, the Law Society has revealed in its response to a Law Commission consultation on the risks posed by ‘predatory’ marriages.

Predatory marriage has become a significant development since the public were consulted on wills reform in 2017, the commission said in October, publishing a supplementary consultation paper.

‘A predatory marriage is where a person marries someone, often someone who is elderly or who lacks the mental capacity to marry, as a form of financial abuse. Although in the consultation paper we had considered the need for protection of vulnerable testators in relation to the rule that a marriage or civil partnership revokes a will, our understanding of the risk and incidence of predatory marriage was limited. However, in the past few years, and in particular throughout our project on weddings law, concerns about predatory marriages have grown,’ the commission said.

Responding, the Law Society said it was difficult to take a clear view on the rule.

The Society surveyed 895 members specialising in wills and probate this year: 42% said the law should be changed to stop a marriage or civil partnership automatically revoking a will – but 42% disagreed.

One in five solicitors had a client they suspected was in a marriage that the other party entered into so they could subject them to financial abuse. At least one in 10 had a client they suspected may have entered a marriage they did not have the mental capacity to consent to.

The Society said: ‘Whether s18 [section 18 of the Wills Act 1837] is abolished or retained, it is important to increase public awareness of the legal consequences of marriage and civil partnership. We recommend that there is increased training for registrars to look for signs of insufficient mental capacity to marry. There may also be benefits to amending the Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA), Enduring Power of Attorney (EPA) and Public Guardian Regulations 2007 to require the public guardian to raise concerns about possible predatory marriages with the registrar general.’

The commission’s recommendations should emerge next year.