Document forgery is a crime in many countries around the world, including Australia.
Section 253 of the NSW Crimes Act 1900 states that making a false document with the intention of convincing someone of its legitimacy carries a maximum sentence of 10 years.
The punishment doesn’t stop everyone, however, and forging a will can be tempting for criminals when the deceased’s estate is valuable.
If you believe that a loved one’s will has been fabricated, pursuing an inheritance dispute may be your best option to have the document disregarded. But what signs indicate a forged will?
1. The signing wasn’t witnessed
In NSW, a will is valid if it’s signed in the presence of two witnesses, who must also sign the document. However, judges can dispense with the formal requirements if they believe the deceased intended a document to be their will.
This means fraudsters can pretend to find a will and claim it was the deceased’s final wishes. Therefore, any document that was not signed by the deceased in front of witnesses may be viewed with suspicion.
2. The signature is missing or doesn’t match
Again, these situations tend to occur when an informal will has been produced to the courts. A missing signature or one that is different to the deceased’s handwriting is likely to raise questions.
However, the burden of proof for forgery cases is on the person challenging the will, so you must provide evidence to back up your assertions. For instance, a handwriting expert may be able to show that a signature doesn’t match the deceased’s previous writing.
3. The will is simplistic and contains errors
Fraudsters rarely go to the trouble of creating a sophisticated will, instead favouring a simple document that leaves them the majority or all of the relevant estate.
The forger may also litter the document with factual errors and other mistakes, such as misspelling names and the personal details of loved ones, either through a lack of care or limited knowledge of the deceased’s family.
4. The beneficiary is an unlikely candidate
Fake wills are usually written to either award provisions to someone who was unlikely to benefit from the deceased’s estate in the first place, or to cut out other people.
As such, the primary beneficiary of a forged document may be a surprise to many loved ones. They could even be strangers to those who knew the deceased.
Contact a contesting wills lawyer
Sadly, proving that a will is a forgery is a difficult task due to the onus of proof being on the accuser.