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Will Challenge - High Court Reject Will That Was Forged on Pre-Signed Company Notepaper

on Friday, 21 April 2017.

Modern forensic analysis techniques prove a later Will to have been forged, with the Deceased’s signature pre-dating those of the witnesses. Patel V Patel [2017] EWHC 133 (Ch)

Background

Prabhavati Patel (the Deceased) died in 2011 leaving four sons and several very successful family businesses, built up by her husband and continued by three of their sons, Girish, Suresh, and Rajnikant. Their fourth son, Yashwant, took a different path and qualified as a doctor.

In 2012 Yashwant obtained a grant of probate in respect of a Will dated 18 June 1986 which named him as sole executor and sole beneficiary. Girish claimed that there was a later Will signed by the Deceased on 23 June 2005, naming Girish as sole executor and sole beneficiary, and asked the court to grant probate of this later Will in solemn form, and revoke the grant already obtained by Yashwant. Yashwant’s defence was that the later Will had been forged by Girish.

Girish’s Case

According to Girish, the Deceased visited him in London in 2005. During this visit, the Deceased became concerned about what would happen to her assets on her death, and insisted Girish drafted a will for her. The signing of the will was witnessed at Girish’s offices by two friends, Rajanbala and Jayshree.

On cross-examination of Girish and the two witnesses, it became apparent that despite an agreement that the witnesses would not make contact with each other, there had been a meeting at Rajanbala’s house days before the trial began. Girish, Rajanbala and Jayshree were all found to have lied under oath. The judge could not attach any weight to their accounts and believed it was possible they gave false evidence on the request of Girish, who was himself a self-confessed liar.

Yashwant’s Case

Yashwant sought to prove that Girish had forged the later Will, and that the grant already obtained under the 1986 Will should remain valid. Yashwant called two expert witnesses to support his claim.

Mr Radley, a handwriting expert, examined a selection of over 20 genuine signatures of the Deceased, and concluded that the signature on the will was not in keeping with the Deceased’s style in 2005, and likely dated from 2001 or earlier. Mr Radley also used electrostatic detection apparatus to discover an impression of another signature on the page, which suggested that the Deceased had signed a stack of papers simultaneously. This was a common practice in their businesses to allow business to take place in the absence of others.

Dr Aginsky, a forensic chemist and document analyst, was also called by Yashwant and used chemical analysis of the ink of the Deceased’s signature to show that it had been exposed to more light than the signatures of the witnesses, and therefore could not have been signed at the same time. He also used microscopic analysis to show specks of printer toner on top of the Deceased’s signature, suggesting that the Will had been printed onto the paper after the signature.

Decision

The judge found that the witnesses, Rajanbala and Jayshree, had both brazenly lied to the court, and that nothing independent corroborated Girish’s case. The forensic evidence proved that Girish had used a pre-signed piece of company paper and then had the will printed to fit around the existing signature. Girish then persuaded Rajanbala and Jayshree to falsely witness the will. Girish’s claim was dismissed.

Comments

This case highlights the importance of utilising modern technology and forensic techniques to support a case, and that witnesses can be unreliable.

For specialist advice in this area, please contact Julia Hardy on 0117 314 5632 or Michelle Rose on 0117 314 5246 from our Private Client team.

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