How can you tell if a “very odd will” is a forged Will or is simply unusual?  

In a recent case at Chelmsford Crown Court, Luke D’Wit faced allegations that he poisoned and murdered the Baxter’s (millionaire shower-mat tycoon husband and wife) and subsequently forged a Will which appointed him as “director and person with significant control” of the successful shower- mat business. In an attempt to make the dubious Will appear valid, D’Wit allegedly created false identities, including a fake lawyer, who tried to convince the family the “very odd” Will was legitimate. 

What is a forged Will? 

Although there is no statutory definition of what a ‘forged Will’ is, it can be broadly described as a Will which the deceased testator had no knowledge of and thus in contravention of Section 9 of the Wills Act 1837, which sets out the basic legal requirements of a valid Will.

Forging a Will is a criminal offence under sections 1- 4 of the Forgery and Counterfeiting Act 1981, carrying a penalty of up to 10 years imprisonment, a hefty fine, or both.

What are the signs that a Will had been forged? 

Many forgeries are hard to spot. However, as a general guide there are some signs that indicate a tampered with Will. These include: 

  • A signature that does not match the known signature of the ‘testator’
  • The Will benefits people who the testator would not have provided for in the usual course of events
  • The provisions have significantly changed from previous valid wills
  • There was no knowledge of the will until after the testator’s death
  • The witnesses of the will are unidentifiable or reluctant to answer questions

Even if some of these signs are present, proving a forged Will is not easy due to the higher level of proof needed. In cases such as this, the court must be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that forgery or fraud took place. This is more than the standard, civil ‘balance of probabilities’ test. To reach this higher level of proof, it will likely be necessary to instruct a handwriting expert. A handwriting expert could, for example, identify whether the signature was copied and pasted in, or even traced onto the document. Obtaining detailed witness evidence from the parties who were involved during the drafting of the dubious Will is also essential.  

In the D’Wit case, there was no knowledge of the ‘Will’ until after the testator’s passing and the provisions had changed dramatically from their previous Wills. 

What are the consequences of having a forged Will?

If a will has been forged, the Will would be invalid. If there was a previous valid Will, then the Estate should be distributed in accordance with that Will. Should there be no historical valid Wills, the intestacy rules will kick in and govern distribution.  Following the intestacy rules could result in certain beneficiaries being left out from benefiting from the Will and could ultimately go against the wishes of the Deceased. 

What should someone do if they suspect a Will has been forged? 

If you suspect that a Will has been forged, as the family of the Baxter’s did, it is important to act quickly and speak to a solicitor. Taking legal advice before continuing with the probate and estate administration process could save time and costs further down the line. The Private wealth disputes team at Moore Barlow can aid investigations into the validity of a Will and advise you on the implications of a forged Will.

How Moore Barlow can help

Our Private wealth disputes lawyers are dedicated to providing tailored advice and support to individuals and families facing disputes over trusts, wills, estates, and other private wealth matters. We work closely with our clients to achieve the best possible outcome, whether through negotiation, mediation, or litigation.