Probate fraud is on the rise
19 December 2014
According to the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners probate fraud is now estimated to be in the region of £100 to £150 million per year.
Probate fraud falls into two main categories; theft by organised criminals and theft by family or friends. Both have increased hugely over the past few years because more people are making their wills without the use of a solicitor.
The wider availability of will writing software and websites devoted to producing simple wills means it is easier to write a will at home – and easier for someone else to create a forged will.
Forged wills are not a new phenomenon. Between 1946 and 1956, Dr John Bodkin Adams is believed to have forged the wills of 132 of his patients who left him money or items. In 2000, the serial killer Dr Harold Shipman was found guilty of forging at least one of his patient’s wills to make himself the sole beneficiary.
Family members and friends have also been found guilty of forging replacements for wills that they considered to be unfair. A more disturbing trend is the groups of organised criminals who target the estates of deceased people. Using databases to include lots of convincing detail, including names of family members, the forged will appoints the criminals as executors, usually through a company set up by the criminals, giving them full access to the deceased’s assets.
Without an independent party such as a solicitor to prove the validity of a will, it usually comes down to one person’s word against another. This can mean going to court and putting your family’s private affairs in a public arena, where a judge will decide if the will is real.
Using a solicitor to draft your will ensures:
- the solicitor will be able to prove the validity of your will;
- there is a record of your wishes and the reasons for any decisions which may be unpopular; and
- your will is safely stored so it cannot be changed by someone else.
The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. The law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.