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Examples of document fraud in probate cases
From:
Michael Wakshull -- Forensic Document Examiner Michael Wakshull -- Forensic Document Examiner
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: Temecula , CA
Sunday, June 16, 2019

 

A will is discovered in a book

After his father died, the son was looking through a book his father owned. On a page of the book the son discovered a holographic will written allegedly by his father. He filed this will with the Riverside County court. The will left the entire estate to the son. His sister filed suit alleging the will discovered in the book was not written by her father and was fraudulent. Each side hired a forensic document examiner to opine as to the authenticity of the handwriting and signature on the will. I was hired by the defendant.

To ensure that there was no limitation on the quality of the signature, I went to the courts viewing room to examine the original will. Plaintiff’s document examiner did not view the original will. Plaintiff’s document examiner worked with only a photocopy of the will.

During the trial, the son erred in his testimony. He misstated a date that was material to the case. To correct this error, his attorney asked the court to waive attorney-client privilege and he took the stand to testify as to the correct date.

The document examiner for the plaintiff, the sister, obtained two exemplars of the father’s handwriting. Based on these two exemplars, the document examiner opined that the signature was not authentic. Defenses document examiner obtained more than 20 exemplars of the father signature. These exemplars spanned 50-year period. The exemplars showed the father’s signature was very consistent across the 50 years. As expected, there was some variation in the signature yet everyone’s signature has a certain degree of variability. Part of the defense’s presentation included a statistical analysis of the signature in question. The statistical analysis showed that the signature in question statistically lies within the expected variability of the father’s signature. As a result of all evidence presented, the defense prevailed. Not only did the statistical analysis provide evidence the signature was authentic, a comparison of details of the signature also showed the signature was authentic.

Does a notarized document prove the document is authentic?

Another case involving the will in Riverside County, there is an entry in a notary book showing that the decedent had in fact signed the will. The signature in the notary book comported with the signature on the will. I examined the original will at the court’s document viewing room. The interesting aspect of this case was all the other exemplars of the decedent did not match the signature on the will. This raises the question whether the decedent had multiple signatures or whether the signature in the notary book was written by someone other than the decedent and was the same person who wrote the signature on the will.

The method used in this case to have an alternative view of the writing is called the Fischhoff method. It is named for a Hungarian document examiner who discovered the method as a way of reducing bias in handwriting comparisons. This method takes the writing and turns it upside down so that the readers brain is not reading writing. The reader is looking at strokes rather than letter formations.

The new wife attempts to collect her husband’s entire insurance policy

After her husband died, his wife presented a change of beneficiary form to the life insurance company she claimed her husband had completed the day before he died. The sole beneficiary was the wife, the stepmother of the decedent’s children. Children filed suit claiming the change of beneficiary form was not signed by their father. They believed their father would never write them out of his estate. I was retained by the children’s attorney to examine the handwriting and signature on the change of beneficiary form.

In this case the wife was subpoenaed to sit for request exemplars. Request exemplars are where a person sits before a document examiner in produces writing to be used to compare to the questioned writing.

I was able to show that the wife wrote the text on the change of beneficiary form. As a result she admitted in deposition that she did complete the change of beneficiary form. She denied signing her husband’s name to the form. She insisted that her husband had signed the form. I was able to show that the husband did not sign the change of beneficiary form, yet I could not tie her to the husband’s signature.

 

Who inherits the multimillion-dollar estate?

The founder of a well-known company died. His daughter (an attorney) and his nephew (an attorney and state legislator) were not included in the will. I was retained by the daughter and nephew to determine the authenticity of the decedent’s signature on the will. In this case I opined that the decedent’s son had probably signed the will. The daughter provided exemplars from both her father and her brother.

 

Did the wife abscond with the estate?

The elderly man married his caretaker. She was an immigrant from another country who sought a means to remain in the United States. He was also an immigrant who did not learn to read or write, yet he built a financial empire. The question to be solved in this case was whether the wife had been writing checks to herself and others with the checks allegedly signed by her husband. In this case, I went to opposing counsel’s office to examine the original documents that were signed by the husband. I also examined original documents that were questionable whether they were signed by the husband.

The husband’s signature is known as a stylized signature. This means the letters in the name are not recognizable. In the husband’s signature, the first letter of his first name is recognizable get the remainder of the signature is not recognizable. Even so there are common attributes among his known signatures. His signature is relatively simple. A result is his signature could readily be simulated. The problem is that a person simulating the signature would probably not notice the small details of his known signature.

For this case I obtained exemplars of the decedent and hit from his wife. After careful comparison I was able to demonstrate that many of the signatures in many of the writings on the check word done by the wife.

About the Author: Michael Wakshull, president of Q9 Consulting, is a civil and criminal court-qualified forensic document examiner providing services throughout the U.S.A. and internationally. Cases include authentication of handwritten and computer-generated documents. Wakshull holds a Master of Science in technology management, a graduate school certificate in forensic document examination and has spoken at international forensics conferences including the World Congress of Forensics in China. He authors and presents document examination courses for minimum continuing legal education (MCLE). Wakshull is a member of the vice president of Scientific Association of Forensic Examiners, National Association of Document Examiners, past president of the San Diego Chapter of Forensic Expert Witness Association (FEWA), ASTM International, and a senior member of the American Society for Quality.

Mike has authored three books on the topic of forensic document examination. 

As a National Speakers Association member, he is available to speak on these subjects.

 
Forensic Document Examiner
Q9 Consutling, Inc.
Temecula, CA
1-951-252-4929
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