What Happens If I Think The Will Has Been Forged?

By Nicola Briggs - 1st November 2021

If you think a Will has been forged, you need to speak to a solicitor straightaway. A solicitor can instruct experts to analyse the document. This includes a handwriting expert who is scientifically trained to assess forged signatures.

Preventing forgery when making a Will

When you make a Will, the Will-writer (known as the ‘testator’) must sign the document in front of two witnesses. Each witness must also sign the document in front of the testator and the other witness. In other words, there are three people in the room at the time of signing. The reason for this is to reduce the risk of fraud. If any concerns arise after the testator’s death, the Probate Registry can contact the witnesses to check the Will was properly executed.

Was the signature forged?

However, this does not necessarily prevent the signatures from being forged. This could be the testator’s signature or one of the witnesses. For example, one witness might sign the Will on behalf of everyone else.

Wills are not typically contested on the grounds for forged signatures, but it can happen. If there is sufficient evidence to prove that at least one signature is forged, the Will can no longer be deemed valid. If there is a previous version of the Will, then this will be reinstated instead. If not, the deceased will be treated as though he/she died intestate – meaning without a Will in place.

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How do you know if a signature is forged?

If your loved one has recently died and you’re concerned that a signature on their Will has been forged, you need a talk to a solicitor straightaway. A solicitor will conduct an investigation to verify whether or not this is the case. This includes appointing a handwriting expert who is scientifically trained to give an opinion on a scale from inconclusive to conclusive.

A handwriting expert can identify if the signature has been cut and pasted in, whether it is traced or freehand, and when the signature was added to the document. They are able to identify discrepancies by:

  • Indentations on the paper
  • Whether the handwriting is connected and free flowing or disconnected and therefore disjointed
  • The difference between light and heavy pressure on the paper
  • Where the signature started and where individual letters started, as it is possible to write “f” starting from the top or from the bottom.

If the person whose signature is under investigation is still alive, they will also be asked to provide two pieces of evidence. The first is a signature on request. The expert will ask for templates to be completed matching the document in question. This should replicate the amount of space that was available on the document, whether the signature had to be placed within lines and, if it is in a box, where that signature falls, be it at the top of the box or at the bottom of the box.

The second is a signature that was not done on request. This could be the signature on their passport, a V5 document for the DVLA, a tax return or for some other purpose in day to day living. The reason that two pieces of evidence are required is that it’s common for someone to have a range of variation in their signature, particularly over a period of time.

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Who was the forger?

If the expert confirms that a signature is forged, the next question is: who was the forger? This is a lot more difficult to prove, although it’s not impossible. For example, if the forger has the same surname as the testator, he or she may lapse into his or her own style for signing the surname.

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Handwriting experts are not to be confused with graphologists. Graphologists assess the psychological state of the testator at the time of writing, and/or evaluate the personality and characteristics of that person. For this reason, it is important that the correct expert is appointed.

If in doubt about the veracity of a Will, please take legal advice before continuing with the probate and estate administration process. Handwriting experts need to see the original Will. This will be difficult if it has already been submitted to the Probate Registry.

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