Fake wills – not to be recommended as the best way to resolve an estate dispute

Posted on: March 5th, 2018

The recent will fraud case of Ms Kamarah Graham-York was extensively covered in the tabloid press and reveals a sad family saga with the deceased partner ending up with a two year suspended sentence and living in a council-funded room.

The case is interesting because of the clients we act for, it highlights the position of unmarried couples and the incorrect assumption held by many that each will automatically inherit the other’s estate. Whilst that assumption in simple terms may be perfectly reasonable, particularly in a long term relationship, that is not how the inheritance laws work in this jurisdiction.

Further complications may arise where the relationship is abusive and controlling, such as here, where potentially the deceased may deliberately not leave their partner anything?
There are actions that can be taken, the key factor is taking the appropriate and well-considered ones.

In this case the lady had lived with the deceased as his “common-law” wife for 33 years, they had two children together and there was a son from the deceased’s previous relationship.
Following the partner’s death, Ms Graham-York undoubtedly found herself in a difficult financial position. Her partner had been the main earner and the valuable London family home was in his name with mortgage arrears starting to build up.

It is apparent from the reports that initially no will was located and as such the intestacy rules came into effect where the children inherited the estate and she had no entitlement. One can understand how panic might set in.

Her first battle was with the building society which sought to evict her because of the arrears. That led to a reported civil case where she argued that the parties intended she had an interest in the property notwithstanding a her limited financial contribution and the property being in her partner’s name.
This was a well advised claim to bring and led to her being awarded a 25% interest after giving account for the mortgage. What is then rather bizarre is that she appealed that decision seeking a 50% share, which based on established principles, was doomed to fail.

At the same time as that court action, it appears from the case report, that the lady was also bringing a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. Again, that is a well-advised claim and is the usual provision to rely upon when dealing with co-habitee claims. The Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 gives the court power to make awards to co-habitees which can be generous.

It seems from the press reports that there were negotiations in the Inheritance Act claim, but she rejected offers of settlement. That seems to be when the position unravelled for her and that may have been due to her greed or possibly due to an adverse costs order against her arising as a consequence of the rejected offer.

Ms Graham-York, then claims to have “found” a homemade will in which she was named as the sole beneficiary. When a will is found in questionable circumstances and the person finding it also happens to be the sole beneficiary it really should come as no surprise that the validity of the will may be challenged.

A challenge over even an apparently obvious fake will may not always be easy and will need carefully considered legal advice. In this case, the challenge was significantly aided by the son finding papers where the deceased forged signature had been practiced. That carelessness probably reflects Ms Graham-York’s state of mind, but does illustrate it is ultimately very difficult to successfully carry off a will fraud.

These cases need not reach the national press and with good technical and sympathetic advice, the vast majority reach a sensible resolution. They are however not always easy to tackle without experienced solicitors and the kind of self-help as seen in this case is certainly not recommended.

The best advice for co-habitees is for each to have a professionally drafted wills that are lodged with solicitors for safe keeping. If there are no wills and you find yourself in this type of difficult position, seek advice before events start to run out of control. There is then is every good prospect of reaching an agreement and preserving family relations.

If you are seeking advice on an issue similar to the above please contact Chris Gambs, Associate Solicitor in our Inheritance and Wills Dispute team.