Disproving a Will on the basis of fraud is difficult and consequently very rare. The burden of proof is high and the quality of expert testimony (e.g. handwriting experts) is notoriously variable. However, in a case in May 2017, a son was found guilty of forging his own mother’s Will following her death.
Mr Stewart Caygill, 53 from Peterlee, Co Durham, was jailed for four years after his brother Philip spotted a spelling mistake in their mother’s Will (Philip spelt with two l’s). Philip was subsequently able to prove the signature was also forged, using a handwriting expert and letters sent to him by his mother during her life-time. That no allowances were made for Mrs Caygill’s beloved dogs or her favourite charities increased Philip’s suspicions. The prosecution asserted Stewart had already stolen several thousand pounds worth of china and jewellery from his mother and had charged her £4,000 to mow the lawn. As the Will was declared invalid Mrs Caygill’s estate will be distributed in accordance with the intestacy rules.
Stewart’s defence lawyer stated the forgery had occurred in ‘a moment of madness’ though Judge Deborah Sherwin of Teesside Crown Court disagreed, commenting: “I am left with the feeling I am unable to believe a word you say about anything, and you are scheming, devious, deceitful and opportunistic”.
The significance of this ruling lies in the weight of evidence required to successfully challenge a Will on the basis of fraud or forgery. Sufficient evidence was provided by Mr Philip Caygill to challenge (what otherwise would have remained) his mother’s last Will and Testament.
There are five legal main ways you can challenge the validity of a Will. They are:-
- The Testator lacked the mental capacity to make a Will;
- The Testator did not know of / approve of the contents of the Will;
- The Will was not correctly executed;
- The Testator was subject to undue influence;
- The Will is forged or fraudulent.
Proving fraud is often the most difficult as the burden of establishing this is high. Anyone concerned that the Will of a friend or relative did not represent their wishes, and hence may be invalid on one or more of these grounds, should instruct a solicitor to make investigations to establish how the Will came to be prepared and provide advice on whether this reveals evidence to support a legal challenge.
The best protection against a challenge to a Will is to ensure your Will is drafted by a solicitor who prepares a detailed note of your wishes and that the necessary formalities have been complied with. It is also advisable to review your Will every five years or after any major change in circumstances (e.g. a birth, marriage or death in the family or amongst the benefactors).
If this article raises any concerns for you regarding a loved one’s Will, please contact Philip Youdan at email@example.com or call 01732 224 013.