Will Forgery/Fraud. How Important is Handwriting Evidence?
How Important is Evidence from a Handwriting Expert?
Will validity claims commonly raise issues of capacity, Undue Influence and coercion. However sometimes the argument may be that the will itself was forged, along with the signature of the Deceased.
Forgery/fraud in Civil law is notoriously difficult to evidence. The level of support required for such a finding is high.
The Bar Standards Board (the governing body for Barristers) states that a Barrister must not draft any statement of case, witness statement, affidavit or other document containing any allegation of fraud, unless they have clear instructions to allege fraud and they have reasonably credible material which establishes an arguable case of fraud.
If the allegation includes a claim that the signature was forged, it is common to engage a handwriting expert in support of the case. A key question is how persuasive this evidence is likely to be for the court.
The very recent case of Rainey –v- Weller  EWHC 2206 (Ch) has once again considered this challenging issue.
In brief, this case involved allegations that a will, which was brought forward by the Defendant post death, was falsified. The Claimants sought to prove that an earlier will was the true and ‘valid’ will of the Deceased.
In the course of the case, the Claimant’s adduced evidence from a handwriting expert in support of their claim.
Deputy Master Linwood gave careful consideration to all of the evidence in front of him. He reiterated the accepted position that the burden of proving that the will is genuine falls on the party seeking to propound that will and they must show, on the balance of probabilities, that the will was both duly executed and witnessed.
He ruled in favour of the Claimants, agreeing that the later will was a forgery. What is interesting in terms of the handwriting evidence, is that Deputy Master Linwood’s decision was not primarily driven by the evidence of the handwriting expert alone. He took a more holistic and encompassing view of the wealth of evidence put forward by the Claimants. He certainly did not dismiss the handwriting evidence, but it is certainly clear from this ruling that a breadth of evidence and support to an allegation of forgery/fraud will be required, and any case hinging on the evidence of a handwriting expert alone is going to be a very risky one.
Expert advice and the collation of as much relevant evidence as possible could be the determining factor for successfully proving an allegation of this nature.
If you have concerns over a will, please don’t hesitate to contact the experts in our Dispute Resolution Team
Chartered Legal Executive