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Daughter found to have forged father's will

View profile for Rachel Leech
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Following a 9-day trial in Liverpool, His Honour Judge Hodge QC found that a daughter forged her father’s will.  

Donald Face, who died in 2017, had three children, Rebeca, Rowena and Richard. Donald originally lived at 18 Wray Crescent in London, which he inherited from his mother. He lived there with Richard. 

There was a dispute with Richard about his occupation and the property was sold. With the proceeds, Donald purchased a flat at 120 Maryland Road, Wood Green as a home for Richard and a property called True Blue in Norfolk where Donald lived until his death.

Doanld’s daughter, Rebeca, started court proceedings in 2019 to propound a homemade will dated 7 September 2017. The original will was never found, but Rebeca claims to have found a photocopy in a bedroom at True Blue on 10 August 2018.

The 2017 will was witnessed by Lee Humphreys and his partner, Sally McKenna, who live in Linton, Cambridge. Save for £5,000 to Rowena and Richard’s children, the estate passed to Rebeca.

Rowena claimed that the 2017 will was a forgery concocted by Rebeca, who conspired with the two witnesses and her partner, Stuart. Rowena believed her father died intestate (without making a will) and therefore his estate should be split equally between the three siblings.

Richard also disputed the authenticity of the 2017 will. Richard originally said that the estate should be distributed according to a will made in the second half of 2016. During the early stage of the trial he accepted there was no evidence that there was a will made in 2016.

Richard also claimed to be entitled to the whole, or alternatively a 51.97% interest, in a property purchased by his dad, where he had lived since 2006. 

Richard relied on a handwritten contract dated 15 February 2006. In the contract, he agreed to vacate his father’s previous home in return for a gift of £100,000 from his father, which he would use to purchase a home. Thereafter, on 3 August 2016, Richard states his father signed a written agreement to settle the property on protective trusts for Richard and his family. Richard sought to enforce this purported agreement or receive damages for it’s breach.

Donald kept handwritten daily journals. The court had the original one from 2016 but only selected photocopies of the crucially relevant 2017 journal. 

Rebeca alleged the original 2017 journal was removed from True Blue after Donald’s death, either by Richard or Rowena. Richard and Rowena claimed it was Rebeca. Rebeca claimed the photocopy extracts, along with a number of other original journals, were left under her car wrapped in a Tesco bag. 

There was a large number of witnesses, and a single joint forensic document expert who said that the evidence was inconclusive as to whether or not the late Donald signed the 2017 will. The expert found there was no evidence to support the proposition that the signature on the 2017 will was transposed from another document, but he could not exclude the possibility.

The Judge said that the case, as many do, turned largely upon the reliability and the credibility of the witnesses. His Honour Judge Hodge QC completely rejected evidence of two witnesses to the 2017 will. He found them inherently incredible, and believed it was pure fiction as it did not reconcile with evidence produced by reliable evidence in the journals and other witnesses. 

The Judge believed that the reason they were prepared to lie to the court was because one of the witnesses served with Rebeca’s partner in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers in neighbouring bases in Germany. The Judge then concluded that Rebeca, her partner and the two witnesses conspired together to forge the 2017 will. 

The Judge ordered for his judgment to be passed to the Crown Prosecution Service. Presumably for them to consider a criminal prosecution against Rebeca, her partner and the two witnesses for perverting the course of justice by producing the forged will. 

The Judge also believed Rebeca forged at least the first page of a letter from her father referring to having made the 2017 will and Rebeca removed the original 2017 journal from True Blue.

The Judge then went on to find that the 2006 contract does vest 48.03% beneficial interest in 120 Maryland Road in Richard. However, as Richard was bankrupt, this now vests in the trustee in bankruptcy. The later 2016 contract did not create a valid trust and therefore the court could not order enforcement of the contract.

The Judge then concluded that Rebeca must pay Rowena and Richard’s costs on an indemnity basis given her conduct. As the 2017 will was held to be a forgery, Donald’s estate will be split equally between Rebeca, Rowena and Richard. However, Rebeca’s share will first go towards paying Rowena’s and Richard’s legal costs. There was no order as to the cost of Richard’s counterclaim as the Judge found neither side had been entirely successful or unsuccessful. 

This case is a good example of what can happen if someone forges a will. Not only is it likely they will be ordered to pay the costs of the litigation, but also the possibility of criminal proceedings. 

Birkett Long has the biggest team of contentious probate specialists in Essex. Our inheritance dispute lawyers have experience dealing with cases concerning forged wills. If you are concerned that a will may be a forgery, please do not hesitate to contact us to discuss how we can help. 

I can be contacted on 01206 217623 or rachel.leech@birkettlong.co.uk.

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