Divorce and Will forgery

It was a forged Will. But the Court denied this man’s claim against it.

 

Divorces are shark-infested waters at the best of times. However, when it comes to the splitting of assets where an inheritance is involved, they can be real bloodbaths.

Matrimonial courts have broad discretion in what they can use as evidence of the wealth available to either divorcing spouse, including past inheritances and trust funds. Although it is unusual to include prospective inheritances, it can happen when the bequest is likely to be considerable and the testator’s death is imminent. In this case, the couple themselves had agreed on what inheritances would be divisible between them.

Mrs Randall had divorced from her husband. In their divorce settlement it had been agreed that if Mrs Corrall, Mrs Randall’s mother, bequeathed to her daughter more than £100,000, anything above that would be split with Mr Randall. Mrs Corrall died in 2013, leaving exactly £100,000 to her daughter, Mrs Randall, and the residue to grandchildren.

Upon death they discovered that Mrs Corrall’s Will gave the estate in the manner described above, leaving nothing whatsoever to Mr Randall. He consequently challenged the validity of the Will, presuming that this division of the estate was simply too perfect in frustrating his expectations. Curiously the High Court, despite agreeing that the facts did indeed indicate that the Will was a forgery, decided to deny Mr Randall’s claim because he had insufficient “standing” to challenge the Will. This was because he was a creditor of his ex-wife, and not of the deceased or a beneficiary. As such the Court said that Mr Randall was not a suitable person to make a claim. He naturally challenged the decision.

The Court of Appeal did indeed grant Mr Randall standing. They accepted that family members and creditors are among those entitled to challenge a Will’s validity, and that it would be a miscarriage of justice for Mrs Randall and the grandchildren (who were the only persons able to revoke the proven Will) could prosper from a suspicious Will simply because the rules of “standing” meant that nobody else could place a legal challenge against it. It was decided that ‘justice in the general sense’ allowed Mr Randall to proceed with his claim. No previous case had ruled decisively on this precise question of standing. Mr Randall, after all, evidently had an interest in the question of the Will’s validity.

So: even those who are not, and never have been, beneficiaries of the Will may challenge its validity. Beware thwarted exes.

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