News | July 7, 2023

Disputed Digest Fraudulent Wills

In her regular column, private client disputes specialist, Helena Taylor, looks at common scenarios the team encounter, how they can arise and be avoided, and what to do should they happen to you.

Case Study

Mrs Jones died in January 2023 aged 88. Shortly thereafter, her daughter, Amy, contacted the local firm of solicitors that her mother had used for many years. They confirmed they were holding a Will for her mother; it was dated 14 October 2012 and divided the estate equally between Amy and her brother, Michael. When Amy told Michael about the Will, he responded saying their mother signed a new Will in 2021. Amy later discovered this Will was homemade and left everything to Michael.

What should Amy do?

  • Amy should seek legal advice at the earliest opportunity. As she is suspicious of the circumstances surrounding the 2021 Will, a caveat should be placed on the estate immediately. A caveat is a legal document lodged with the Probate Registry that will prevent either Will being proved and a grant of probate being issued whilst Amy and her lawyers carry out investigations.
  • The new Will should be reviewed to ensure that it complies with the necessary formalities. In order to be valid, it must have been signed in the presence of two witnesses. If two witnesses have signed the Will, Amy can instruct her lawyers to contact them.
  • There are often several red flags when looking at a fraudulent Will, such as a drastic change in wishes and/or signature irregularities. However, a court will not overturn a Will on such grounds alone. If the Will appears valid on its face but Amy suspects her mother’s signature on the Will is not genuine, she will require expert evidence (such as a forensic handwriting report) to prove the same.
  • Forged signatures are not the only circumstances in which a Will could be fraudulent. For example, a Will may also be fraudulent where a person has changed their Will to exclude a beneficiary on the basis of false representations. If the signature is genuine, Amy’s lawyers can investigate this alternative cause of action.

Given the serious nature of allegations of fraud or forgery, it is vital that specialist legal advice is sought at the outset.

Wedlake Bell’s Private Client team have a sub-group of lawyers who specialise in contentious probate cases.