It is normally considered that in civil law cases the ‘balance of probabilities’ approach applies, so that if there is a 51 per cent probability that something claimed is true, then it is accepted. For criminal cases, the ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ standard of proof applies, which clearly is a much more severe test.
However a recent case, involving a will which the civil court judge concluded was a forgery, has illustrated that the mere balance of probabilities test may not necessarily apply in such a simple form.
The case concerned a valuable 60 acre farm in Kent. Mr Supple, the owner of the land, died suddenly, aged 77, leaving two children. His daughter lived with him, and his son (with whom he was on good terms) did not. It was initially thought that he died without leaving a will but, to everyone’s surprise, his daughter appeared at his solicitors bearing an alleged will of the sort one can buy from a stationery shop or newsagent. The will left her the entire estate, except for a bequest of £100 a year to her brother. She had previously been to see the family’s solicitors and had told them that she believed her father had not left a will. The will which the daughter produced was said to have been discovered in a suitcase left with a friend for safe-keeping.
The son opposed the will, claiming it to be forged. The judge heard the evidence from all the parties, which included expert evidence from a handwriting expert who was of the opinion that the signature on the will was not that of Mr Supple. The judge found the evidence of Mr Supple’s daughter and the witness to the will unconvincing. He ruled that the will was a forgery and that the case papers should be passed to the Director of Public Prosecutions.
The daughter’s legal team argued that the burden of proof rested with her brother to show that the will was a forgery, but the brother argued that the lack of correspondence of the signature on the will with Mr Supple’s known signature required his sister to give a convincing explanation of why that should be so.
It is extremely rare for a will to be ruled a forgery in circumstances such as this. However, wills can be successfully challenged on a number of grounds. The best insurance against a successful challenge to your will is to make sure it is correctly executed and evidenced. Contact us for advice.