Forged wills

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If the provisions of a deceased’s will prove to be unexpected, featuring surprisingly large bequests or specified beneficiaries that seem unusual, it may be necessary to verify the authenticity of the will.

A will might be contested on grounds of forgery or fraud. However, there will need to be compelling evidence to support a claim of fraud or forgery in relation to a will, in order for the court to set it aside.

What is a forged will?

A forged will refers to a testamentary document that has been fraudulently created or altered with the intention of deceit. This could involve someone forging the testator’s signature, generating a completely fake document, or altering the terms of an existing, legitimate will, all without the genuine consent or knowledge of the person to whom the will belongs.

The aim behind forging a will typically centres on manipulating the distribution of the deceased individual’s estate to benefit unintended parties. Identifying and proving that a will has been forged can be a complex legal matter, often requiring a thorough investigation and substantial evidence, particularly concerning the alleged falsification and the genuine intentions of the deceased.

To successfully argue that a signature on a will has been forged, it’s typically necessary to secure expert handwriting evidence supporting the claim. Handwriting specialists will examine various established instances of the deceased’s script and compare them to the handwriting and signature present on the will.

Furthermore, they might employ chemical and other testing techniques on the document to verify the authenticity of the signature and its purported date. The presence of two witnesses is a requirement for a will; thus, evidence of a forged signature also casts suspicion on the potential involvement of the witnesses in the forgery.

The act of forging a will is severe, and there have been multiple instances where individuals have been successfully prosecuted and subsequently imprisoned for doing just this.

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Scott Taylor

Scott Taylor

Partner | Private wealth disputes

01483 464274

What might indicate a forged will?

If suspicions arise that a will may be forged or fraudulent, several aspects should be considered:

  • Is there provision for non-family members in a manner that seems unusual or inconsistent with the deceased’s character, such as bequests to caregivers?
  • Was the will drafted shortly before the individual’s passing?
  • Does the signature or handwriting align with the supposed testator’s?
  • Was the will self-drafted?
  • Are the witnesses affiliated or associated with a beneficiary of the will?
  • Does the will markedly deviate from provisions in an earlier version?
  • Was verbal communication of a will’s existence made, yet no document can be found?
  • Was a will discovered unexpectedly in a place other than a professional’s office?
  • Was there minimal or no provision for a child or spouse when it would ordinarily be anticipated?

Should it be accepted that a will is forged, the estate would then be distributed per the last valid will, or, in its absence, in accordance with intestacy rules.

It’s important to note that challenging a will due to alleged forgery is quite an undertaking, as obtaining supporting evidence can be extremely complex and take a long time. If a solicitor professionally drafted and witnessed the will, mounting a forgery allegation becomes notably challenging since it implies the solicitor’s complicity in the fraud.

Given the gravity of forged or fraudulent will claims, they often encounter a strong defence and alternate explanations may exist for the unexpected contents of the will. For instance, a signature that doesn’t match in cases of alleged forgery might be attributed to the testator being physically unwell at the time of signing, thus affecting their handwriting.

Claims rooted in allegations of forgery can be deeply distressing and challenging for everyone involved, whether you are instigating or defending the claim. Whilst such claims might engage other family members, the severe nature of the allegations can tarnish reputations and fracture relationships. Consequently, it is imperative to seek specialist legal advice from the outset, ensuring that suspicions are meticulously investigated, and evidence is collected prior to making any allegations.

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What to do if you think a will has been forged?

If you suspect a will has been forged, immediately consult a solicitor experienced in probate matters. Gather any evidence that supports your suspicions and be prepared to challenge the will’s validity in court, as addressing a potentially forged will involves navigating intricate legal processes.

How to prove a will is forged?

To prove a will is forged, typically, a handwriting expert evaluates the testator’s signature for authenticity. Additionally, analysing the document for inconsistencies in language or terms used, corroborating witness statements, and investigating the circumstances under which the will was created and signed can also be pivotal in establishing forgery. Legal guidance is crucial.

How to recognise a forged will?

Identifying a forged will often involves examining the signature, analysing the language and terminology used, and verifying the witnessing process. Engaging a handwriting expert and reviewing the circumstances of the will’s creation can also be pivotal. Legal advice and potentially court intervention might be needed to determine forgery conclusively.

How common are forged wills?

While exact statistics can vary, forged wills are not exceedingly common but they do occur. The instances of forged wills might be observed more in high-stake estates or where familial relationships are contentious.

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