Deathbed Marriages

Florida is a popular retirement destination because of its warm climate, advantageous asset protection laws, and the affordable cost of living. However, this influx of retired residents has resulted in a cottage industry of predatory scam artist preying on the single, isolated and vulnerable elderly people who depend on others for care.

A deathbed marriage is a marriage where a young man or woman marries an individual whose life expectancy is nearing its end with the intent to drain their life’s savings and inherit their estate.

The main goal of these younger people is to take advantage of the older person by marrying them, and once they pass away, collect on their wealth, all while having no interest in the person, just a financial interest in their estate assets.

To address this issue, the Florida Legislature enacted a law to protect assets from passing to these predators.

Florida Statute §732.085 governs Spousal rights procured by fraud, duress, or undue influence.

The law states, in part, that “[a] surviving spouse who is found to have procured a marriage to the decedent by fraud, duress, or undue influence is not entitled to any of the following rights or benefits that inure solely by virtue of the marriage or the person’s status as surviving spouse of the decedent unless the decedent and the surviving spouse voluntarily cohabited as husband and wife with full knowledge of the facts constituting the fraud, duress, or undue influence or both spouses otherwise subsequently ratified the marriage…”

This law precludes a surviving spouse found to have engaged in fraud, duress or undue influence to procure the marriage from having any rights or benefits (money, life insurance policies, bonds, wills, trusts etc.) unless there is evidence to show that marriage was legitimately ratified.

The standard of proof for a person claiming that a deathbed marriage has occurred is by a preponderance of the evidence, which is the least rigorous standard of proof. Once that burden is met, the burden shifts to the surviving spouse to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that both parties ratified the marriage.

A claim of deathbed marriage must be brought within four years from the date that the person dies to bring suit.

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