Fraud and Forgery - Ball v Sisson

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04 December, 2020

Tom Howcroft
Senior Associate

Claims of fraudulent and forged Wills are continuing to increase and the recent case of Ball v Sisson [2020] 1 WLUK 544 saw a claimant successfully argue that his late mother's Will had been forged by his sister in order to gain a share of her mother's estate.

Mrs Ball was aged 92 when she died on 17 March 2018. She was survived by her two adult children, a son, "D", and a daughter, "L". Prior to her death, Mrs Ball had executed a professionally drawn up Will in 2015 ("the 2015 Will") which appointed D as her sole executor and trustee. The 2015 Will left 88% of Mrs Ball's estate to D and the remaining 12% to three grandchildren in equal shares. L was reportedly left out of the 2015 Will due to the relationship between her and her mother breaking down.

After her mother's death, L produced what she claimed to be a homemade Will made by her mother on 04 January 2017 ("the 2017 Will"). L alleged that this had been made after the 2015 Will and appointed L and her husband as executors. L claimed that the 2017 Will stated the 88% split of the estate was now between Land D. The three grandchildren were to still to receive the remaining 12%.

L alleged that her mother had asked her to prepare the 2017 Will after they reconciled their relationship. D however sought to challenge the validity of the 2017 Will. D claimed:

  • His mother's signature was not genuine and there was therefore a want of due execution of the 2017 Will; and
  • If it was found that his mother had signed the Will, there was still a lack of knowledge and approval on his mother's part as to the contents of the 2017 Will.

L disputed that the 2017 Will was a forgery. She claimed that her mother had asked her to make a new Will, which made provision for L, after she had discovered that D had been feeding her misinformation about L.

L was particularly detailed in describing the circumstances under which her mother had signed the 2017 Will. L described picking her mother up from her home on 04 January 2017 and driving her to her own house at approximately 2.00pm to 2.30pm. L stated that the witnesses to the signing also attended her home at around this time. Mrs Ball then signed a Letter of Wishes and the 2017 Will which had been made using a Will template. L included this version of events in her witness statement that was prepared for the initial court proceedings.

Unfortunately for L, D had installed security cameras at their mother's home in 2016. When the 2017 Will came to light and the footage was checked it showed Mrs Ball had not left her house at all on 04 January 2017. Neither did it show any visits from L on that date.

L and her solicitors argued that the CCTV footage must have been tampered with in some way. In response, D's solicitor made an open invitation to L's solicitor to inspect the CCTV. When addressing the issue at an initial hearing the District Judge suggested that if L considered the footage had been tampered with, she should obtain her own expert report on the issue. If it were established in such a report that tampering had taken place the matter could be revisited.

Further evidence was also obtained by D in the claim to support his assertion that the signature on the 2017 Will was not that of his mothers. At the trial, a forensic handwriting expert testified as to the discrepancies found in Mrs Ball's alleged signature on the 2017 Will and Letter of Wishes. Six differences were noted in the signature on the 2017 Will and nine differences were noted on the Letter of Wishes. The expert was able to testify with a level of confidence above 50% that the signature was not Mrs Ball's signature.

His Honour Judge Kramer found in D's favour at the trial and concluded that the 2017 Will was a forgery and held it to be void. The 2015 Will was reinstated and admitted to Probate and L and her husband were ordered to pay D's costs.

The case shows that claimants will require strong evidence to challenge the validity of a Will. However, it is recognised that there will only be a minority of cases where a claimant will have CCTV evidence available to support their claim. Other evidence that could be used to support a validity challenge may include obtaining witness evidence from individuals who are aware that a Will may have been forged.

In addition, challenging a will on the basis of a forged signature is not the only way a will can be held to be invalid. Other ways to challenge the validity of Will include:

  • Where the Will has not been witnessed by two independent witnesses;
  • Where the testator did not know and approve the terms of the Will, or lacked testamentary capacity to make the Will;
  • Where the Will is lost, damaged or has been tampered with; or
  • Where the testator has been forced or unduly influenced into making a Will.

If you are concerned with the terms of a Will and suspicious of the circumstances of the drafting and execution of a Will, as in the case set out above, we can assist by carrying out the necessary investigations to advise on a potential challenge to the validity. Considering the legal position, we can then act on your behalf in pursuing a claim to challenge the validity of a Will, offering a range of funding options depending on the facts of the case.

For more information contact Tom Howcroft in our Contesting a Will department via email or phone on 0333 207 1130. Alternatively send any question through to Forbes Solicitors via our online Contact Form.

Learn more about our Contesting a Will department here

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