Fraudulent Wills: steps to take if you suspect a Will has been forged
Unfortunately, recent prosecutions of forged Wills or Wills that have been tampered with show that forgeries are possibly on the rise. In this article, we’ll discuss what to do if you suspect a Will has been forged.
Telltale signs a Will might have been forged
Often, there are signs a Will may have been forged, such as the signature not matching the Testator’s usual signature – and in these cases, a handwriting expert can be employed to provide an assessment of the signatures.
However, whether or not a Will has been forged can often be lost or remain unreported in contentious probate cases, usually where parties and the courts are grappling with validity claims based on other grounds.
Other signs a Will may have been forged, often coincide with other invalidity claims we see in contentious probate cases, such as:
- When a Will has not been witnessed by two independent witnesses;
- Where the Testator appeared not to have the capacity to know of, understand or approve the content of the Will;
- Where the Will has been lost, damaged or visibly tampered with, for example, had staples removed and replaced or pages missing;
- Quite commonly, when allegations of forgery arise, there can also be allegations or evidence of the accused coercing or unduly influencing the Testator into making a Will.
Challenging a Will based on a forgery allegation
A forgery allegation is serious and can lead to imprisonment if proven. However, proving forgery can be challenging, and gathering evidence may be difficult.
However, there are a number of successful cases where fraudulent activity of the accused has been proven when pulling on a loose thread in their complex web of deceit. One example is a fairly recent case in Ball v Sisson  which concerned a previously estranged daughter and her mother, who was in her nineties. The daughter claimed that after reconciliation, her mother had made a different homemade Will in 2017 from that of her previous in 2015 which was drawn up by solicitors.
When the Will was challenged for both forgery and a lack of knowledge and approval, the daughter gave a very detailed account of the circumstances surrounding the alleged 2017 will. This included how she claimed to pick her mother up from her home on 4 January 2017, drove to her own house in the afternoon (approximately 2.00pm to 2.30pm) where the attesting witnesses were. What the daughter had failed to account for was the CCTV that was installed at her mother’s home that showed the mother had not left the house at all on 4 January 2017, and no visit was made by the daughter, as alleged. Whoops for the daughter!
Handwriting experts were also brought into the proceedings in Ball v Sisson , and in all the circumstances, the will was held to be forged, and the daughter lost her entire inheritance and was ordered to pay her brother’s substantial legal costs.
The most important thing in proving forgery is providing evidence and supporting facts of the case. However, many cases of forgery settle at mediation or other forms of ADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution), because once a Will is exposed as being forged, often with the facts of continuing litigation (prison, high costs order against them etc.) spelt out to the forger behind closed doors, they are more willing to reach a settlement.
Seek specialist advice
Sadly, claims involving allegations of fraud or forgery trigger even further stress and emotion at what is already a fraught time for loved ones. However, if you do have concerns over the validity of a Will or are ready to go ahead with challenging a Will, we recommend you seek specialist legal advice as early as possible.
Specialist contentious probate solicitors have the expertise to properly investigate your concerns and gather evidence, to provide a full assessment of your case and allow you to move forward with the strongest footing possible.