Is there case law in common-law-based legal systems regarding claims that a will is forged - but without the signature being forged, and without the text being altered after the signature?

For example: Someone wants to take over your assets when you die. So, they write a will leaving you everything, put a gun to your head and make you sign it. The signature has not been forged - you signed; and the text isn't changed after your signature. But clearly that is not your will, and in some legal systems (e.g. the UK's forgery act of 1981) would be considered a forged document AFAICT.

Another example: You're about to sign your will; but as you look away, someone exchanges the page for a different page which gives them more and others less. So, the signature wasn't forged, but the signed document is not your will.

These are the sorts of situations about which I'm interested in rulings on the question of forgery.


  • I realize that a document can be an "invalid will" as opposed to a "forged will", and that undue influence is often invalidating. I'm interested in cases where the question of forgery was discussed.
  • I'm particularly interested in cases of softer coercion to sign than a literal gun to one's head.
  • The higher the legal forum the better.
  • Rulings that also kind of survey the legal situation rather than simply deciding a case are preferable.
  • Have a non-common-law example? Please provide a link a comment.
  • Uk law: It's only forgery when the signature is forged. If the signature wasnt forged, the will is, in form, valid. However, just because the will is not forged does not make it valid, the will must fulfil other requirements, such as: it must represent the true intentions of the testator, the testator must have the correct mental capacity, and the testator must have exercised his free will. Having any of those elements missing will render the will invalid – Shazamo Morebucks Aug 29 '19 at 8:42
  • For example in UL law: there are times when a spouse prepares a will for the testator to sign. The spouse may say things like "please sign it or i will divorce you", the will, even if signed, may be rendered invalid due to the common law rules of undue influence. In fact, there is a case where an old lady trusted her son so much that she signed a will prepared by him without reading through it properly, trusting that he would always act in her bet interests, but the court held that the will was invalid because her immense trust in him gave him too much influence in her actions – Shazamo Morebucks Aug 29 '19 at 8:47
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    Undue influence and forgery are both things which causes a will to be invalid. Undue influence doesn't "rise" to the level of forgery, they are separate. Forgery refers to when a document is faked, e.g the signature, or the text and paper. Undue influence refers to external circumstances which would render an otherwise validly executed will invalid – Shazamo Morebucks Aug 29 '19 at 9:08
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    This isnt my personal view, its the view of english law. My comments specify that i am coming from an english law perspective. I make no comments on what other jurisdictions define forgeries as. – Shazamo Morebucks Aug 29 '19 at 9:29
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is based on a misapprehension; that forgery can apply to wills that are valid in form,. but invalid for some other reason. – Tim Lymington Aug 29 '19 at 17:46

I am primarily addressing the statutory basis, such as the Forgery and Counterfeiting Act 1981, which defines the offence of forgery thus:

A person is guilty of forgery if he makes a false instrument, with the intention that he or another shall use it to induce somebody to accept it as genuine, and by reason of so accepting it to do or not to do some act to his own or any other person's prejudice

The law also defines "false":

(1)An instrument is false for the purposes of this Part of this Act—

(a)if it purports to have been made in the form in which it is made by a person who did not in fact make it in that form; or

(b)if it purports to have been made in the form in which it is made on the authority of a person who did not in fact authorise its making in that form ; or

(c)if it purports to have been made in the terms in which it is made by a person who did not in fact male it in those terms; or

(d)if it purports to have been made in the terms in which it is made on the authority of a person who did not in fact authorise its making in those terms...

(plus paragraphs on altering). Para (b) is most obviously applicable to a gun-to-head forged document. A different common law jurisdiction, Washington state, defines forgery thus:

(1) A person is guilty of forgery if, with intent to injure or defraud:

(a) He or she falsely makes, completes, or alters a written instrument;

with definitions of falsely making /completing / altering, the most relevant part of which is

(5) To "falsely make" a written instrument means to make or draw a complete or incomplete written instrument which purports to be authentic, but which is not authentic either because the ostensible maker is fictitious or because, if real, he or she did not authorize the making or drawing thereof

See too this overview (1.3. Forgery by altering, corrupting, or falsifying legal documents) from California. The general characterization of forgery is that

forgery is committed when a person makes or alters a writing so that it is false with the intent to defraud.

and see this more scholarly article which reveals historical authorities regarding the term: which confirm that "forgery" is about false documents, and is not limited to signatures. A "will" (in the sense of last will and testament) not created by the testator (but held out as being so created), held out as being the will (wish) of the testator, and being falsely held out as being authorized by the testator is a false document, thus a forgery. Thus the question is legally coherent, and in principle there could be relevant case law specifically addressing "forgery" (which, because it is more specific, would be harder to prove than "undue influence").

  • So, this is essentially a super-long comment supporting the validity of my question, and for that I thank you. However, I did specifically ask for case law though... – einpoklum Aug 29 '19 at 16:32
  • Probate law is separate from financial law; a will may be forged or fraudulent. In either case it is invalid, but the two are distinct (as this overview shows). – Tim Lymington Aug 29 '19 at 17:36

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