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Suspicious Will and Suspicious Minds

A photo of Matthew Button
9th February 2023

Will validity claims can prove difficult.

There is a judicial reluctance to strike out a Will as invalid unless there are good reasons to do so.

But sometimes it helps to look at other jurisdictions to see how such claims are framed. If we glance over the pond, Will claims are quite common and one in particular seems to be heading to the top of the charts.

In January 2023, Priscilla Presley sought to challenge the validity of the Will of her late daughter, Lisa Marie Presley following her sad death aged just 54. In 2016 an amendment was made to Lisa Marie’s Will which removed Priscilla and her former business manager Barry Siegel as trustees of her ‘living trust’, replacing them with her two children, Riley and Benjamin Keough. Following the sad death of Benjamin in 2020, his sister Riley upon the death of their mother was effectively left as the sole trustee.

Priscilla has now brought a claim stating that the amendment is invalid as a forgery. One assumes Priscilla was all disturbed when she saw the new Will, as it misspells Lisa’s name and bears a signature inconsistent in nature to her usual signature and therefore, so the argument goes, the amendment could not have been truly made at the hand of Lisa Marie. It’s been further reported that whilst Lisa Marie inherited her father’s $4.9 million Estate over 40 years ago, its value has since risen to approximately $100 million due to the savvy business efforts of Priscilla. Given the size of the Estate, it would be reasonable to expect Riley to resist her grandmother’s Will validity claim though that remains to be seen.

It would, however, be naïve to assume these types of claims only take place in the US concerning household names - although that’s the only reason this claim has gained attention. We don’t have to travel as far as Memphis though. Will validity and forgery claims can be found much closer to home. In a 2017 claim, a widow in her 20s attempted to claim her late 85-year-old husband’s Will was superseded by a later Will. She had suggested that she found this later Will lodged inside an empty Doritos bag at the Deceased’s home, which she was still living in. This later Will left the widow £550,000, which was significantly higher than the £25,000 she was left in the original Will. At trial, the Judge dismissed the new Will as a “simple, but rather poor quality, forgery” and further commented that it was riddled with errors, including confusing the testator’s gender in the attestation clause which declared it to be “her last Will”. As suggested by the Judge, the underlying factor that prevented the later Will from being admitted to probate was the fact that the widow essentially “came to court to lie” and – all shook up, dismissed her claim as “ridiculous”.

Making a Will validity claim

In England and Wales, claims relating to the validity of a Will typically only come to light after death. They can include (in the most likely order):

  • A lack of testamentary capacity; and
  • Lack of knowledge and approval
  • Failure to abide by the requirements of the Wills Act 1837;
  • Undue influence and fraudulent calumny;
  • Forgery (as demonstrated above);

Will validity claims may be issued either alone or sometimes with a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 (provided the claimant falls within a class of applicant). This is to ensure the claimant has the best possible chance of obtaining the financial provision they feel they were entitled to receive under the Deceased’s Will.

Obtaining legal advice at the earliest possible opportunity is essential in any Will validity claim, especially considering a potentially emotionally charged dispute involving a Deceased’s Estate. The sooner professional advice is obtained, the better.

Or as Elvis would say, it’s now or never.

If you are looking to challenge a Will or would like to find out more about the contentious probate service we provide, please contact our team on 01926 887700.