Unfortunately, cases of suspected will fraud are growing, but spotting a suspected fraudulent will is not always easy. However, there tend to be a few common features that may indicate a fraud has taken place:
- The original will has been destroyed.
- The signature of the will is not that of the Testator.
- When the will wasn’t signed in the presence of witnesses.
- If there is a suspicion that the deceased person was tricked into signing a will they otherwise would not have signed.
- If the Deceased was dependent on a caregiver for many areas of their life.
- If the Deceased had a caregiver and suddenly everything has been handed over to them.
- No legal expert has presided over the will in question; it was a do it yourself type of will.
- If the will was suddenly altered while the Deceased was in hospital
It’s important that we point out before getting further on in this post that spotting will fraud can always be a suspicion but actually proving it can be very difficult.
In fact, in cases where a will is being contested on the basis of it being fraudulent, the burden of proof usually always rests with the person making the claim. It’s almost always necessary to obtain some expert opinion, whether that is someone that is skilled at detecting forgeries or in some other area.
If you are in a situation where you feel that will fraud has occurred, here are five steps to set you on the right course to challenge it.
- Get in touch with a legal expert
Before you can do anything to contest a will, you need to seek the expert advice of a legal expert in this area. They will be able to tell you if you actually have a case by which to pursue any legal action and contest the will or not.
Your legal expert will review all aspects of the case and then offer you a way to move forward with it.
- Gather your evidence
As we mentioned earlier, the burden of proof in contesting a suspected fraudulent will is on you. This requires you to seek evidence that will at least give you more than a 50% chance of winning if it goes to court. It’s important you understand that without this probability you won’t have a chance of winning your case.
As a forged signature is often a surefire sign of a fraudulent will, it’s necessary you seek expert opinion and evidence from handwriting experts. They will need to examine at least 10 documents comparing the signature of the person and that of the suspected forged will.
- Witness reports
In many cases, even the evidence from handwriting experts won’t convince a court that a forgery has occurred. This is where gathering several witness reports will be crucial to the case.
You need to get in touch with all the people who were involved closely with the deceased who can provide a deep insight into the circumstances prior to the deceased’s passing who could possibly indicate some fraud has indeed occurred.
- Seek mediation
This should always be your first step before taking any case to court. Ideally, both parties should be seeking to reach some kind of resolution and in many cases, they do.
Your lawyers should be present with you during this process and they will help guide proceedings. Ultimately, though it’s up to you and the other person to reach a settlement. If not, then you have the option to pursue legal action.
- Pursue legal action
This should always be a last resort but in cases where mediation has failed and you have all the necessary evidence that demonstrates a suspected fraud has occurred, you can pursue legal action.
Keep in mind that taking this case to court doesn’t mean you’ll win. It’s very tough to prove a suspected case of fraud with a will. However, if the evidence and witness reports are compelling then it’s possible a court may find things in your favour.
Contesting a suspected fraudulent will is a big deal but it’s very hard to prove. Our recommendation is that you speak with the person in question first and then follow the 5-step approach we have listed out above.
If you’re currently dealing with a suspected fraudulent will case at the moment then get in touch with one of our legal experts and we’ll help you as best as we can.