What does it take to prove Will forgery?

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Jennifer McGuinness - Partner


In the recent High Court case of Carlton Watts v Watts, the Claimant (Carlton) sued his 92-year-old mother (Jobyna), alleging she had forged his late father’s Will.

By his 2000 Will, the late Eustace Watts had left his entire estate to Jobyna, his wife of 45 years. His previous Will of 1994 had purportedly left his son Carlton Aldo Watts one-third of his estate.

If forgery could be proved, the 2000 Will would be invalid, and the 1994 Will would take effect. In this article, our Contentious Probate Experts explore why Carlton's claim failed.

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The details of the case

A challenge to a Will based on forgery is a very serious fraud allegation; the standard of proof is necessarily high. Handwriting evidence is often pivotal in cases where forgery is alleged.

In the Watts case, both parties adduced expert evidence. Unlike the expert appointed for Jobyna, Carlton’s expert had not forensically examined samples of the deceased’s signature or handwriting; he had only considered one sample of Jobyna’s handwriting.

From that, he concluded the signature on the Will was forged by Jobyna; he sought to rely on letter formation, pen pressure and similarities between her signature and that of the signature of Eustace on the Will.

Carlton’s expert’s evidence was discredited and rejected in its entirety. The evidence of Jobyna’s expert, who concluded that the signature was not a forgery, was based on a forensic analysis of several samples of Eustace’s signature. This evidence was accepted by the Judge, Master Clark.

The evidence of the solicitor who took the Will instruction was also key and was accepted by Master Clark. She found the solicitor to be credible and accepted her evidence, which was a double blow to Carlton’s case.

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Details of the case

What is needed to prove forgery successfully?

Undoubtedly the evidence of the person who prepared the Will and the attesting witnesses are key. As was shown in the case of Smith v Ganning (in which our very own Stephanie Ewan acted for the successful claimant), agreeing to act as a witness to a Will is an important role with responsibilities.

For example, it can result in you having to give evidence in court should a dispute later arise.

The Watts case also shows the importance of obtaining evidence from a properly instructed handwriting expert, who is provided with an appropriate amount of samples of the deceased’s signature.

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what does it take to prove forgery successfully

What does the handwriting expert need?

For a full and detailed analysis, the expert will need comparison signatures of the Deceased, preferably original and contemporaneous with the disputed Will.

Signatures from various sources are also preferable.

Signatures can be obtained from various sources, including (but not limited to):

  • Business documents
  • Application forms
  • Bank cards and documents
  • Correspondence (private and/or business)
  • Official documents – passport, driving licence, marriage certificate, divorce papers
  • Club membership cards, loyalty cards
  • Documents held by employers, accountants, solicitors
  • GP and dental registration documents, prescription forms, consent to treatment forms

Around 15-20 signature samples should be aimed for. The importance of appropriate comparison material cannot be emphasised enough. Of course, these documents are often not easily available to the person seeking to prove the forgery.

Strenuous efforts are required to obtain suitable samples. In some cases, it may be necessary to seek an order for disclosure from the court to obtain these.

The physical and mental health of the person making the Will is also relevant to the expert, as this can affect handwriting.

Information from a doctor or other healthcare professional can therefore be very helpful to the expert.

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If you need legal advice regarding Will Dispute claims or you suspect forgery, please speak with our Contentious Probate Lawyers at:


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Jennifer McGuinness


Jennifer has over 20 years of experience acting as a Contentious Probate solicitor. Jennifer has specialist expertise in Wills and probate disputes, inheritance claims, proprietary estoppel claims, trust of land claims, mutual Wills, and trust disputes.

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