Estate planning is important because it ensures you get to decide who inherits your property. Unfortunately, there are individuals who may take advantage of your death to wrongly claim your property for themselves. In some cases, people have gone so far as to forge a will in order to seize control of an estate.
Woman Sentenced to Two Years for Forging Landlord’s Will
Recently, a California appeals court upheld the conviction and two-year prison sentence of a woman convicted of will forgery. The case arose from the 2010 death of a 63-year-old woman living in the Tujunga neighborhood of Los Angeles. The defendant was renting an apartment in the deceased woman’s home. When the decedent’s brother came to the house and asked about her sister’s “final wishes,” the defendant claimed she was the sole beneficiary of the estate. To that end, the defendant filed a petition in California court to probate a will purportedly signed by the decedent in the presence of two witnesses.
The will turned out to be a forgery. One of the witnesses testified the defendant came to him after the decedent’s death and asked him to sign a will she had fabricated herself. The second witness confirmed this, noting he thought he was only signing a document that would allow the defendant to continue residing in the decedent’s home. This witness also confessed he knowingly signed a false affidavit stating he signed the bogus will in the decedent’s presence several months before her death.
At trial, the defendant denied any wrongdoing. She tried to argue one of the witnesses actually created the fake will and tricked her into filing it with the probate court. The jury disbelieved the defendant’s testimony and convicted her on two counts, one for “forgery committed by altering, corrupting, or falsifying a legal document,” and the other for perjury when she filed a petition, under oath, to probate the fake will. In December 2015, the California Court of Appeal rejected the defendant’s appeal of her convictions, saying there was “sufficient evidence” to support the jury’s verdict.
Protecting Against Will Forgery
Aside from actually making a will, the most important step you can take to prevent a scenario like the one described above is to inform your family members and other potential beneficiaries of your estate planning arrangements. Make sure someone you trust, preferably your nominated executor, will be able to access your original will as soon as possible after your death, in order to minimize the risk of anyone stepping forward with a forged will. You may even want to keep your original will for safe-keeping with your estate planning attorney.
While will forgery is uncommon, it does highlight the risk of dying without leaving a valid will. Even if you think you do not own enough property to justify making a will, or you just assume the law will make sure your family is taken care of, it is always a good idea to make your wishes explicit and in writing. If you need help from an experienced San Diego estate planning attorney in preparing a will, contact the Law Office of Scott C. Soady today.