The Netflix documentary "Tiger King" has reportedly been one of the most popular shows during "lockdown" as viewing figures surge. If you haven't seen the documentary, you may want to stop reading as spoilers are coming up!
The documentary explores the story of Joe Exotic who owned hundreds of tigers, lions and other exotic animals based at his park in Oklahoma in the United States. The programme takes you through Joe's life with a particular focus on his rivalry with Big Cat Rescue CEO, Carole Baskin. The documentary gives you an insight into "life at the zoo" and also Joe's colourful lifestyle.
Joe is currently serving a 20 year sentence after being convicted of charges including animal abuse and for trying to have Carole killed.
If you have got this far, you are probably thinking – why has a firm of solicitors written an article about "Tiger King"? Well, one of the aspects explored in the documentary is the disappearance of Carole's second husband, Don Lewis, who was last seen over 20 years ago. Joe Exotic has publicly accused Carole of murdering her husband so she should inherit his wealth – something that she emphatically denies. When scrolling through the news this week, I stumbled across an article about the investigation being carried out by the Sheriff in relation to Don's disappearance. The Sheriff concluded that Don's Will was "100% a forgery" which left everything to Carole cutting out his ex-wife and children. The Will was said to have been examined by two experts who determined that it had been "faked".
So all of this got me thinking about "forged" Wills and was my inspiration for this article. As an initial point, it is worth saying that the situation with Don's Will is based in the United States and so the rules over there may be very different to here. The following is based on the law in England and Wales...
A forged Will is generally one that was made without the deceased's knowledge, but it could still be considered fraudulent if for example, the signature was forged, even if the deceased created the Will. Forged Wills are generally rare although that is not to say that it cannot happen. They can arise from family problems, as can other kinds of contested Wills, but there have been cases where people have specifically targeted those who are vulnerable in order to obtain a benefit and get them to falsify a Will in their name.
Alleging that a Will has been forged or the person making the Will's signature has been forged, is not an allegation that should be made lightly and there is a high evidential burden to overcome in order to be successful. Such cases are heavily reliant on expert evidence and usually the instruction of a specialist handwriting expert will be required. However, sometimes this can prove to be inconclusive and all the circumstances of the case surrounding the Will's preparation and execution will need to be considered. If the Will is found to be forged then it will be held to be invalid. You will then need to see whether there is a previous valid Will to revert to or if not, the estate will be administered in accordance with the Intestacy Rules.
If you have concerns about a Will then please do not hesitate to get in touch with us. We have a specialist team who deal with Will disputes and contentious probate who are able to talk you through your options and provide advice on next steps.
Article written by Contentious Probate and Family Law Solicitor Emerald Priscott.
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*This article is provided for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or other professional advice.