Forged Wills

22 Mar 2024 | Katie de Swarte
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Table of Contents

If the contents of a will comes as a surprise, then one of the things to consider is whether the will was made by the deceased and is valid. Forgery is difficult to prove but a successful claim will result in the forgery being set aside in favour of a previous, valid will, or the Intestacy Rules, if there is no earlier valid will.

What is a forged will?

Fraud can take many different forms. The most common example of fraud in the context of wills is when a testator’s last valid will has either been destroyed or hidden. Either an earlier will is put forward in its place which normally benefits the person attempting to commit the fraud, or there is an allegation that there is no valid Will so the estate passes to the surviving family members in accordance with the Intestacy Rules.

A will could also be fraudulent if the person trying to prove it as a valid will knows that the testator did not sign the will in front of two witnesses and the witness’ signatures were added to the will at a later date. This means that the will was not duly executed in accordance with the requisite legal formalities.

It could also be the case that the person attempting to commit the fraud, has used a signature that does not match previous versions of the testator’s signature.

  • For more information on the rise of older and vulnerable people being pressured into changing their will, read our blog post: What is fraudulent calumny?

How to recognise a forged will?

Many forgeries are difficult to spot as the forger may have taken great care to make the document look genuine. In some cases, forensic handwriting experts are needed to identify differences in the testator’s signature . However, there are some signs that can indicate that the will might have been fraudulently created or tampered with.

These include:

  • The signature on the will does not match other known signatures of the testator
  • The Will benefits certain people and it would be out of character for the testator to provide for them
  • The provisions are significantly different from those in an earlier valid will
  • The Will was found unexpectedly after the testator’s death with no previous knowledge of its existence
  • The purported witnesses to the will are being obstructive and will not answer questions regarding the execution of the will, or are otherwise unidentifiable

What do I do if I think a Will has been forged?

If you suspect that a Will has been forged, it is important to act quickly and speak to a solicitor. The solicitor can investigate whether the will is genuine and what action should be taken. This may include appointing a handwriting expert who is trained to assess whether a signature is genuine . For example, a suitably qualified handwriting expert would be able to identify whether the signature is traced or freehand, when it was added to the document, or whether it has been cut and pasted in.

Is it a crime to forge a will?

Yes, will forgery is a crime under the Forgery and Counterfeiting Act 1981. A charge of “making a false instrument” under the Forgery and Counterfeiting Act 1981, includes creating or altering documents with the intent to deceive. If the forgery involves attempting to obtain property or money, further charges under the Fraud Act 2006 could also apply.

What is the penalty for forging a will?

Each case is judged individually and will take into account the actions and consequences of the forgery. In the most serious cases the forger could face up to 10 years in prison, a heavy fine or both. The exact sentence would depend on the seriousness of the crime including the amount of money involved and the impact on the victims.

What are the consequences of having a forged Will?

Forgery is grounds for contesting a will. If there is sufficient evidence to prove that the will is forged, then the will would be invalid. If there is an earlier valid will, then this will should be admitted to probate. If there is no earlier valid Will, then the Intestacy Rules will govern both who the beneficiaries of the estate are and who is entitled to administer the deceased’s estate.

How do I prevent forgery when making a will?

The best way to protect against forgery is to ensure that your will is legally binding and up-to-date. It always preferable to instruct a firm of solicitors to prepare your will, rather than making your own will and risk forgery or the will being found to be invalid for another reason.

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