Ms Gordon, an actress who made her name in the 1960s died in April 2015, aged 74. She left an estate worth approximately £1m.
Mr MacCaster, a property consultant is named as executor of Ms Gordon’s will and is set to inherit 60% of her estate. Mr Benhamu, also a property consultant, is set to inherit the remaining 40%.
Ms Gordon was widowed and did not have any children. However she had a number of cousins and was very close to her goddaughter. Mr MacCaster and Mr Benhamu are accused of convincing Ms Gordon to leave them her entire estate when she was ‘not in a fit and proper state’ to sign a will. The defendants deny the charges of conspiracy to defraud and fraud by false representation.
The will in question consisted of three paragraphs, was signed in the back of a taxi and one of the witnesses was a man who was suffering from acute paranoia and signed his name as ‘Can Say’.
The prosecution has made the point that standard practice for the preparation and execution of a will, especially with a regard to such a large estate, is in a professional setting, for example in a solicitor’s office.
Mr MacCaster’s response was that the requirement for a will to be valid is that the testator’s signature has to be witnessed by two independent witnesses. It does not matter whether this is in the back of a car or in an office. Further, suffering from a mental illness does not disqualify you from witnessing a will.
Mr MacCaster is correct, however the fact that the will left a large estate to two individuals who were not related to the deceased, that it was witnessed by an individual who did not correctly sign his name, and that it was executed in the back of a taxi are sufficient grounds for suspicion.
It is not clear whether Ms Gordon executed a previous will. If the prosecution are successful then the latest will shall be declared invalid and the previous will shall be used to administer her estate. If Ms Gordon did not execute a previous will her estate will divided in accordance with the rules of intestacy.
The trial continues.
Cases concerning disputed wills and allegations of forgery being dealt with by the criminal courts are not uncommon. An allegation of fraud can have both civil and criminal consequences, which parties can fail to appreciate at first glance.
If you have suspicions about how a will was executed or are seeking to defend such an allegation please contact Bernadette Baker, Anna Kelly or another member of Birketts’ Contentious Trust and Probate Team. Law covered as at May 2018.
The content of this article is for general information only. It is not, and should not be taken as, legal advice. If you require any further information in relation to this article please contact the author in the first instance. Law covered as at May 2018.