A local paper reported the ultimately rather sad case of the conviction of a 73-year-old woman for forging her late partner's legal documents not once, but twice. The woman spent time in jail in 2015 for fraudulently claiming that her deceased former partner had left her his property. Having been convicted once, it was therefore somewhat surprising that she tried a similar trick again in relation to a different partner. This time she presented what she said was his last will and testament to a solicitor. She has pleaded guilty and await sentencing – the judge has warned her that a custodial sentence is possible, despite her ailing health.
Ultimately, the case is rather sad because it is clear from comments made by her solicitor that she may not have needed to resort to fraud. She had lived with one of her partners as husband-and-wife for some 10 years. They had talked about marriage, but never got round to it.
The case highlights once again the importance to couples of ensuring that they take appropriate advice as to their affairs and in particular, on making a will if they are unmarried. There is no such thing as a 'common law' husband or wife. Cohabitants have very few rights in the event that their partner dies not having provided for them in a will.
Unmarried parties have no rights to take any part of the assets or estate of a deceased partner under the intestacy rules. They may therefore have to resort to a claim for property or maintenance out of the estate under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975. This can be a long, stressful and expensive process at a time which will already be very difficult due to the death of a partner.
Clearly forging legal documents of any sort can never be an appropriate course of action. Discussing your affairs with a specialist adviser and ensuring that each party makes a will can avoid huge upset and anguish.
To discuss this or any other private client matter, contact us.