Fraudulent Wills: What About Cases of Foul Play?

It’s unusual for fraud to be involved in the process of making or administering a Will. Despite this, it’s far from impossible and it is an issue plenty of people have had to deal with.

In this post we have addressed four key ways that fraud could be a factor in a Will. This could be something you need to look into if you are considering your options for challenging a Will.

What if a Will has been fraudulently made or signed?

In very rare cases, the family members of someone who has died may have reason to believe that a Will that has emerged after the death was not a Will that the person had genuinely made and/or signed themselves.

If you have reason to believe that a Will has been made or signed fraudulently, you will need to speak to an experienced solicitor and gather as much evidence and witnesses as you can.

It’s perhaps important to note here that in certain circumstances it is legal for Wills to be signed by someone other than the person it belongs to, but only if they have given express permission to do so. For example, if the person who wrote the Will had a permanent or temporary disability that prevented them from signing themselves (such as vision problems or a broken arm) they might have asked a trusted friend or associate to sign on their behalf. This would need to be discussed with the solicitor who had written the Will and the Will would need to include specific wording to accommodate it.

What if pressure has been put on someone who is making a Will?

There are a range of different ways that someone might have been pressured into making or changing a Will. This pressure might have come from a spouse, a romantic partner, a sibling or an adult child. It could also have come from someone outside of the family such as a business associate or even a con person.

The best time to address a case of undue pressure is at the time a Will is being made. A solicitor who specialises in this area of the law will be able to offer advice on how you might be able to support a family member or friend who you believe is being put under this kind of pressure.

Of course, the true extent of any pressure might not be clear until after a death when you see a loved one’s Will for the first time. It can be very difficult to prove that undue pressure has been used, but we would always recommend seeking legal advice as soon as possible if you find yourself in this situation.

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What if someone has turned a Will maker against a beneficiary?

When someone deliberately turns a person who is making a Will against a potential beneficiary, this is called fraudulent calumny.

For example, if Sister A set out to poison her elderly mother against Sister B with the intention of encouraging the mother to disinherit Sister B, this would be fraudulent calumny, which is illegal.

Categorising a situation as fraudulent calumny isn’t as simple as stating that a relative has been gossiping about you. In order to be correctly classified as this kind of fraud, Sister B would need to prove that:

  1. Sister A had made a negative representation to the mother about Sister B
  2. That Sister A did so with the intention that the mother would then decide to cut Sister B out of the Will
  3. That Sister A knew that what she was saying was false (or that she didn’t know or care whether it was true)
  4. That there was no other explanation for Sister B being disinherited by her mother

This list of requirements means that it is not necessarily straightforward to challenge a Will on the basis of fraudulent calumny. However, in certain circumstances this is likely to be something well worth exploring with your solicitor.

What if a Will has been hidden or destroyed?

It is much harder to hide or destroy a Will now that most Wills are stored by solicitors and/or registered with Certainty, the national Will register. However, in some cases, original legal documents, including Wills, are still stored at home.

In a situation where a Will cannot be found, or where there is visible damage to the Will, it is reasonable to question whether the person who wrote the Will changed their mind about it and tried to destroy the original document in order to invalidate it.

There are occasions where there is doubt whether the person who made the Will was the one who got rid of/destroyed/damaged it, or whether that was done by someone else after their death.

It is a criminal offence to damage or destroy someone else’s Will, especially if you are doing so because you do not agree with the Will in question. If you have reason to believe that someone has damaged or destroyed a Will, this should be reported to the police as soon as possible. 

What happens next in cases of fraud?

If you believe any type of fraud has taken place involving a Will, we would urge you to seek specialist legal advice as soon as possible. An experienced solicitor will be able to consider the facts and evidence available and help you determine the best course of action.

In some cases, such as if a Will has been criminally damaged, it will be necessary to report it to the police. Your solicitor will be able to advise you on whether this applies in your situation.

Unfortunately, cases of fraud relating to wills are often very difficult to prove. Even if you have clear evidence, the process of challenging a Will on this basis is likely to take many months to resolve.

Choosing a skilled solicitor you trust will make this process much easier to navigate.

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If you wish to speak with somebody regarding challenging a Will then please do not hesitate to get in touch with us.

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