Spurious Will

Spurious Will
Spurious Will
Full Overview Of Spurious Will

Maintaining the integrity of a will is crucial to ensuring that the testator’s wishes are respected and that their estate is distributed equitably. Regrettably, the presence of false wills—fraudulent or forged wills—can complicate the probate process, leading to legal disputes and potential injustice.

Here at DLS Solicitors, we fully comprehend the difficulties and intricacies associated with false wills and are dedicated to offering expert guidance and assistance in these matters. This detailed guide presents a comprehensive overview of false wills, addressing their identification, legal consequences, practical applications, and strategic considerations.

What Is a Spurious Will?

A spurious will is a document that purports to be the valid will of a deceased person but is in fact fraudulent or forged. Spurious wills are created with the intent to deceive and misappropriate the estate of the deceased, often to the benefit of the forger or other unscrupulous individuals. These wills can significantly disrupt the probate process and lead to prolonged legal disputes.

The legal framework governing wills in England and Wales is primarily derived from the Wills Act 1837 and the Administration of Estates Act 1925. These statutes set out the requirements for a valid will and provide mechanisms for challenging and invalidating spurious wills. Case law also significantly shapes the judicial approach to dealing with fraudulent or forged wills.

Core Concepts

  • Forgery: The act of creating a false document with the intent to deceive. In the context of wills, forgery involves creating a will that purports to be written and signed by the testator but is actually created by another person.
  • Fraud: Intentional deception to secure unfair or unlawful gain. In the context of wills, fraud can involve misrepresenting facts, undue influence, or other deceptive practices to create or alter a will.
  • Undue Influence occurs when a person exerts excessive pressure on the testator to create or modify a will in a way that benefits the influencer. If proven, this can invalidate the will.
  • Testamentary Capacity: A person’s legal and mental ability to make a valid will. A lack of testamentary capacity can render a will invalid.

Identifying Spurious Wills

Identifying spurious wills is critical to ensuring that the true intentions of the testator are honoured. Several red flags and forensic techniques can be employed to detect fraudulent or forged wills.

Red Flags

  1. Unusual Changes: Sudden or unusual changes to the will, particularly if they benefit one individual disproportionately, can signify fraud or undue influence.
  2. Questionable Signatures: Signatures that appear inconsistent with the testator’s known signature may indicate forgery.
  3. Lack of Witnesses: The absence of credible witnesses or witness statement discrepancies can suggest that the will is spurious.
  4. Handwriting Analysis: Differences in handwriting style, pressure, and flow can indicate that the testator did not write the will.
  5. Beneficiary Behaviour: Beneficiaries who exhibit suspicious behaviour, such as pressuring the testator or attempting to hide the existence of other wills, can raise concerns about the will’s validity.

Forensic Techniques

  1. Handwriting Analysis: Professional handwriting analysts can compare the handwriting in the will to known samples of the testator’s handwriting to determine authenticity.
  2. Ink and Paper Analysis: Forensic experts can analyse the ink and paper used in the will to determine if they are consistent with the time period in which the will was purportedly written.
  3. Digital Forensics: In cases involving digital signatures or electronic documents, digital forensic experts can analyse metadata and other digital traces to verify authenticity.
  4. Witness Testimony: Interviewing witnesses and obtaining sworn statements can help establish the circumstances under which the will was created and identify potential fraud or undue influence.

The existence of a spurious will can have significant legal implications, affecting the distribution of the estate and leading to potential criminal charges against those involved in the fraud or forgery.

Contesting a Spurious Will

Challenging a spurious will typically involves filing a claim in the Probate Registry or the Chancery Division of the High Court. The claimant must provide evidence that the will is fraudulent or forged. Grounds for contesting a will include:

  1. Lack of Testamentary Capacity: Demonstrating that the testator did not have the mental capacity to make a valid will at the time it was created.
  2. Undue Influence: Providing evidence that the testator was subjected to undue influence or coercion when creating the will.
  3. Forgery: Presenting forensic evidence that the will was forged.
  4. Fraud: Showing that the will was created or altered based on fraudulent representations.

Criminal Charges

If forgery or fraud is proven, those responsible may face criminal charges. Forgery and fraud are serious offences under the Forgery and Counterfeiting Act 1981 and the Fraud Act 2006, respectively. Convictions can result in significant penalties, including imprisonment.

Probate Process

The discovery of a spurious will can significantly delay the probate process. The courts must carefully examine the evidence and determine the will’s validity before proceeding with the estate distribution. This can lead to prolonged legal battles and increased legal costs for the parties involved.

Practical Applications and Case Studies

Let’s explore a few case studies highlighting common scenarios and their outcomes to exemplify the practical implications of spurious wills.

Forged Will Benefitting a Caregiver

After the passing of Mr. Johnson, his children suspected foul play when they discovered that his entire estate was left to Ms. Smith, his caregiver. They believed that the will had been forged and contested it in court. Handwriting analysis revealed significant differences between Mr. Johnson’s known signature and the one on the will. Witness testimony also indicated that Mr. Johnson was not of sound mind when the will was supposedly signed. As a result, the court invalidated the will, and Mr. Johnson’s estate was distributed to his children according to intestacy rules.

Undue Influence by a Family Member

Mrs. Green, a wealthy widow, created a will leaving her estate to her three children. Just before her passing, Mrs. Green supposedly made a new will that left her entire estate to her youngest son, David, who had been living with her and caring for her. Mrs. Green’s other children challenged the will, claiming that David had unduly influenced their mother. The court found evidence that David had isolated Mrs. Green from her other children and coerced her into changing her will. As a result, the new will was invalidated, and the estate was distributed according to the original will.

Discovery of Multiple Wills

After Mr. Brown passed away, it was discovered that he had two conflicting wills. The first will, which was dated five years before his death, left his estate to his two children. The second will, dated six months before his death, left his entire estate to his new partner, Ms. Williams. Mr. Brown’s children contested the validity of the second will, claiming that it was forged. Forensic analysis of the ink and paper used in the second will suggested that it was likely created after Mr. Brown’s death. As a result, the court invalidated the second will, and the estate was distributed according to the terms of the first will.

Strategic Considerations for Estate Planning

Successfully navigating the complexities of spurious wills requires strategic planning and expert legal advice. At DLS Solicitors, we work closely with our clients to develop effective estate plans that minimise the risk of fraud and ensure their wishes are fulfilled.

Clear and Specific Drafting

Drafting wills with clear and specific language is crucial to avoid ambiguity and potential disputes. This includes detailing the distribution of assets and providing reasons for any exclusions or unequal distributions, which can help prevent challenges based on undue influence or fraud.

Regular Review and Updates

Regularly reviewing and updating the will is essential to ensuring it reflects the testator’s current wishes and circumstances. Changes in family dynamics, financial situations, and relationships should be accounted for in the will.

Secure Storage

Storing the original will in a secure location, such as a solicitor’s office or a safe deposit box, can help prevent tampering and ensure the will is not lost or destroyed. Providing copies to trusted individuals can also help verify the will’s authenticity.

Witness Testimony

Ensuring that the will is properly witnessed by independent and credible witnesses can provide valuable evidence in the event of a challenge. Witnesses should be individuals who are not beneficiaries and can attest to the testator’s mental capacity and freedom from undue influence when the will was signed.

Video Recording

Sometimes, video recording the will-signing process can provide additional evidence of the testator’s mental capacity and intent. This can be particularly useful in preventing challenges based on undue influence or lack of testamentary capacity.

At DLS Solicitors, we offer a range of services to support clients in all aspects of estate planning and administration, including:

Legal Advice and Consultation

Our experienced lawyers offer personalised legal advice on contested wills, guiding clients to understand their options and develop effective strategies to handle potential issues.

Will Drafting and Review

We assist clients in drafting and reviewing their wills to ensure they include the necessary provisions to prevent fraud and address potential contingencies. Our solicitors ensure that wills are comprehensive, clear, and aligned with the client’s wishes.

Estate Administration

Our team provides expert support in the administration of estates, ensuring that the testator’s wishes are honoured and that the estate is distributed fairly and efficiently. We handle all aspects of the process, from probate applications to the distribution of assets.

Dispute Resolution

In cases where disputes arise due to spurious wills or other issues, our solicitors offer robust dispute resolution services. We aim to achieve amicable solutions that protect our client’s interests and preserve family relationships.

Conclusion

It is essential to be aware of spurious wills, as they can cause significant disruption to the probate process and result in prolonged legal disputes. By recognising the warning signs and using forensic techniques to identify fraudulent or forged wills, we can ensure that the true intentions of the testator are upheld.

At DLS Solicitors, we are dedicated to providing expert guidance and support to our clients, helping them navigate the complexities of estate planning and achieve their financial and personal goals. Whether you are creating a will, managing an estate, or dealing with disputes, our team is here to assist you at every stage, guaranteeing peace of mind and financial security for you and your loved ones.

Our commitment to clear communication, thorough planning, and personalised service ensures that your estate plan accurately reflects your wishes and adjusts to life’s changes. You can trust DLS Solicitors to guide you through the complexities of spurious wills and all aspects of estate planning, protecting your legacy for future generations.

Spurious Will FAQ'S

A spurious will is a fraudulent or forged will created with the intent to deceive and manipulate the distribution of a deceased person’s estate. It is not a genuine reflection of the testator’s intentions.

A spurious will may be identified through inconsistencies in the document, such as unusual signatures, changes in handwriting, alterations without proper witnesses, and discrepancies with known facts about the deceased’s wishes.

If you suspect a will is spurious, you should gather any evidence that supports your suspicion and seek legal advice. A solicitor can help you understand the steps to challenge the will and guide you through the legal process.

Beneficiaries named in the will or previous wills, family members who would inherit under intestacy laws, and other individuals with a financial interest in the estate can challenge a spurious will.

Challenging a spurious will typically involves filing a claim in the probate court, presenting evidence that the will is fraudulent or forged, and possibly attending a court hearing where a judge will decide on the validity of the will.

Evidence may include expert handwriting analysis, witness testimony, records of the testator’s known wishes, inconsistencies in the will’s execution, and any other documentation that suggests the will is not genuine.

Presenting a spurious will is a serious offence and can lead to criminal charges such as fraud and forgery. If proven, it can result in imprisonment, fines, and a criminal record for those involved.

The court will examine all evidence presented by the parties involved. If the will is proven to be spurious, the court will declare it invalid, and the estate will be distributed according to the last valid will or intestacy laws.

Yes, if a spurious will is initially accepted as valid, it can wrongly affect the distribution of the estate. However, if it is later proven to be fraudulent, the distribution will be corrected based on the last valid will or intestacy laws.

To prevent a spurious will, individuals should:

  • Clearly express their wishes in a properly executed will.
  • Use a solicitor to draft and store the will.
  • Inform trusted family members or friends about the existence and location of the will.
  • Regularly review and update the will to reflect current intentions and circumstances.
Disclaimer

This site contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. Persuing this glossary does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

This glossary post was last updated: 11th July 2024.

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Our team of professionals are based in Alderley Edge, Cheshire. We offer clear, specialist legal advice in all matters relating to Family Law, Wills, Trusts, Probate, Lasting Power of Attorney and Court of Protection.

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