Did Newlyweds, 95 and 96, Have Mental Capacity to Get Married?

By Daniel Taylor, Esq. on September 10, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

It's a love story that seems too good to be true: Two nonagenarians, alone in their later years, get married after a chance meeting in line for lottery tickets.

But as it turns out, it may indeed be too good to true -- or at least to be legal. The bride, 96-year-old widow Edith Hill, was declared mentally incapacitated several years ago, reports The Associated Press. And now a Virginia judge -- who called her marriage to 95-year-old widower Eddie Harrison "improper" -- has appointed an attorney as Hill's guardian. The lawyer's task: to determine whether the marriage is in Hill's best interest.

Why is this elderly couple's seemingly storybook marriage being subjected to such legal scrutiny?

Capacity Required to Enter Into Marriage

Generally, entering into a marriage requires three things: consent, being of legal marrying age, and capacity. In the case of Hill and Harrison, there's no question they meet the age requirement. And it seems both willingly agreed to get married, with no signs of force or coercion. But what does capacity mean?

Capacity refers to the mental state of the parties to a marriage. In order to legally marry, both parties must be of sound mind and legally capable of making his or her own decisions. A person who is found legally incompetent because of mental illness, age, or injury generally lacks the capacity to enter into legal agreements, such as marriage.

Guardianship for Incapacitated Adults

When a court finds that a person has become incapacitated, it will typically appoint a guardian to act as a legal custodian, making financial and other decisions for incapacitated person. According to the AP, when Hill was declared incompetent, two of her daughters were named as her guardians.

One of Hill's co-guardians allegedly allowed the marriage to take place without the knowledge or consent of the other. That daughter is concerned that Hill's marriage could complicate the eventual distribution of her estate, which includes property worth an estimated $475,000.

Both daughters have now been removed as guardians with a local attorney taking their place. One possible solution: to have the reportedly happy couple sign a postnuptial agreement that prevents Harrison from inheriting any of Hill's property.

But if the attorney finds that Hill's marriage is not in her best interest, the matter may be resolved with a divorce or an annullment, the AP reports.

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