July 13, 2012

Will forgery case highlights need for caution

The recent case of Bhangal v Kaur & Anor highlights the importance of creating a valid Will by tightening the noose on the potential beneficiaries of forgeries.

The case involved a dispute between the two sons of a deceased man and their step-mother. After his death, the deceased’s wife produced a new Will which contradicted the terms of the last-known Will and left the entirety of the estate to his new wife, as opposed to his sons. The court was asked to consider whether or not the latest Will had in fact been forged by the wife and found considerable evidence supporting the sons’ suspicions. Consequently, the court used its discretion to revoke the most recently produced Will and the deceased’s estate was shared equally between the sons under the previous, valid Will.

The Law

When a Will is being challenged on the likelihood of forgery the Court will take into consideration a number of factors. These are:

  • Consistency with any previous Wills made by the deceased, such as the use of solicitors;
  • Inability to gain evidence from the attesting witnesses to the produced Will;
  • Evidence from handwriting experts suggesting that it does not contain the deceased’s signature.

Where consideration of these factors leads to grave suspicion, it can amount to the will being revoked on the basis of forgery.

Implications

The Court has discretion in balancing the probabilities of a disputed Will and can use this to invalidate what it considers to be a forgery. Steps should therefore be taken to avoid causes for suspicion of a Will.

It is increasingly important to take care as to how you change your Will and as to the traceability of its witnesses. The use of solicitors may be crucial, especially if this is consistent with the drafting of previous Wills. The court’s recent approach here sets out the combination of evidence that can be taken into account to determine the likelihood of a Will having been forged and its willingness to set it aside.

Therefore, best way to avoid potential disputes after you are gone is to ensure that you use a solicitor to update, amend or replace your Will and to do this after or in anticipation of any major life changes.

If you would like any further information, please contact James Laycock, partner on 0113 227 0382 or at james.laycock@gordonsllp.com.