Will forgeries on the increase!
This is an issue that contentious practitioners are beginning to see on a more regular basis.
In Rainey v Weller, a case where the court was asked to determine whether a Will made on 9 February 2018 was genuine and/or whether a later Will made on 5 March 2018 was also genuine and therefore revoked the February Will.
The February Will was prepared professionally by Solicitors. Mrs Weller, the deceased, gave her instructions in February 2018 and expressed her wish to appoint her niece, Ann Rainey, as sole executrix and sole beneficiary of her estate.
Mrs Weller’s son, Paul Weller, claimed he prepared a Will for his mother upon her instructions using a template he found online. The March Will appointed Paul as sole executor and divided the estate equally between the deceased’s three grandchildren. Paul’s mother purportedly confirmed to him that this is what she wanted.
Following her death in November 2018, Paul, without telling Ann, applied for the Grant of Probate using the March Will, getting this in January 2019. Ann instructed solicitors after seeing the March Will, as she did not believe the deceased’s signature was genuine and must have been forged – most likely by Paul.
The case went to court and expert handwriting evidence was obtained. After careful consideration of 13 witness testimonies, together with the expert handwriting evidence before him, the judge ruled that the March Will had been forged for a number of reasons, including:
- It would have been highly improbable, indeed verging on impossible, that the deceased would have significantly changed her wishes in a four-week period
- She would have, most likely, gone back to her solicitors to amend the Will
- Paul did not produce the March Will straight away
- The evidence of the handwriting expert was moderate to strong that the signature had been forged.
The judge held that on the balance of probabilities, Paul had concocted the March Will at some point after his mother’s death, as he was not made aware of the terms of the February Will until his mother passed away.
Mrs Weller had a long, deep and loving relationship with her niece and trusted her – as is evidenced by appointing her as executrix and attorney for her Lasting Powers of Attorney – but had no such relationship with her own children or some of the grandchildren, so Paul’s disappointment upon seeing the February Will would have been clear.
The attendance notes prepared by Mr’s Weller’s solicitor confirmed what her intentions were in February 2018 and there were no such attendance notes for the March Will, which would have explained such a sudden change in intentions.