Island knowledge, national expertise

Judge Unravels Agatha Christie-Style Plot to Detect Will Forgery

Agatha Christie would struggle to imagine the plots of some inheritance disputes that come before the courts. That was certainly so in one case in which a judge found that a son resorted to forgery in concocting a bogus will after his mother died.

Prior to her death, the mother executed a professionally drafted will by which she left the whole of her estate to her niece. The son, however, claimed that, just four weeks after the first will was signed, he prepared another will at his mother's request. By that document, he said that his mother had left all that she possessed to three of her grandchildren, two of whom were the son's children.

After the niece launched proceedings, the judge found that the first will was clearly genuine but the same could not be said of the second. The mother knew her own mind and it was highly improbable, indeed verging on the impossible, that she would have chosen to make two wills in the space of a month.

There was no change of circumstances or intervening event that could explain such a dramatic change of heart on the mother's part. She had a close relationship with her niece and, had she wished to change her will, it made sense that she would have again sought professional assistance in doing so.

The judge noted that the son did not immediately produce the second will after his mother's death. His claim that he had forgotten where he put it and later found it in his loft was unbelievable. He obtained probate in respect of the second will without telling the niece and immediately put his mother's house up for sale.

After considering expert handwriting evidence, the judge found that the mother's purported signature on the second will was a forgery and that the document had been concocted by the son at some point after her death. Although it was not possible to identify the forger beyond doubt, the judge found that it was probably the son or someone else acting at his behest. Due execution of the second will having been fabricated, the judge ruled in favour of the first will.

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