Forged Wills and Will Fraud
Most will disputes arise from common grounds for a will dispute such as lack of testamentary capacity, undue influence or the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. However, some of the less common situations that give rise to will disputes are the grounds of forgery and will fraud.
Both forgery and will fraud occur when someone has deliberately interfered with a testator’s will to change who inherits property from the testator’s estate. Some examples of fraudulent situations are when someone has deliberately destroyed someone else’s will, or where someone has deliberately told the testator something untrue to convince them to change their will. Examples of forgery include creating a fake will or writing a false signature on a will.
If either will fraud or forgery is successfully proven, the fraudulent will is revoked, as it will not be a valid will, and the estate will be divided according to the most recent previous valid will. On the other hand, if there is no previous will, the estate will be divided according to the intestacy rules.
Suspicious Circumstances may indicate will fraud
There are some situations that suggest will fraud has taken place. Circumstances that can lead to a suspicion of will fraud include:
- The witnesses to the will have a close relationship with the only beneficiary
- A sudden radical change between the testator’s previous will and the testator’s new will, for example suddenly leaving property that was to be divided between beneficiaries to one individual
- Before they died, the testator became heavily dependant on the beneficiary of a new radically different will, for example a carer
- The signature on the will appearing to be different from the testator’s signature
- A will that was made without the help of a solicitor (a “DIY” will)
- The witnesses were not present when the will was signed
Burden of Proof in cases of forgery or will fraud
There is a high burden of proof when challenging a will on grounds of forgery or will fraud. This is partly because fraud is a serious allegation that can have criminal implications for the defendant. It is difficult to prove that someone has interfered with the will deliberately and for this reason, other grounds for a will dispute are considered easier to prove. Another challenge of alleging fraud is that there are usually few witnesses, as the testator has died before the dispute arises. For this reason, it is often difficult to find enough evidence to support a claim of will fraud.
The evidential burden is high because claimants usually need to consult a handwriting expert for an expert opinion on whether the signature on the will is genuine, or if it has been copied. A handwriting expert will need to look at around 15 examples of previous signatures by the testator to compare them to the signature on the will and decide whether the signature is genuine.
What to do if you suspect will fraud
It is important to contact a solicitor to find out what the best approach to challenging a will is in your situation. Claimants who suspect that there has been will fraud should consider challenging the will using different grounds because of the high burden of proof in will fraud cases. The suspicious circumstances that give rise to will fraud claims can also lead to other claims that are easier to prove:
For example, a claim for lack of knowledge and approval can be made if there is evidence that the testator did not know or approve of the will, which would likely be the case if the will has been made fraudulently. A claim of lack of testamentary capacity can be made if the testator did not meet the requirements for capacity to make a valid will, which may be the case if someone has been able to take advantage of them. If one of these other grounds for a will dispute succeeds, the will is declared invalid, so the claim will have the same result for you as a successful will fraud case, but with a lower burden of proof.
Will Claim solicitors are specialist will dispute lawyers. We can advise on all aspects of your will dispute and help you whether you consider a will to be invalid, or you wish to claim for a higher proportion of an estate under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act. Get in touch to book an appointment with one of our will dispute experts.