Home Information Cases In Re The Estate Of Patel v Patel (2017)

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In Re The Estate Of Patel v Patel (2017)

Summary

The court refused to grant the claimant probate of an alleged will of his mother, holding that he had forged the will.

Facts

The claimant asked the court to grant probate of the alleged last will of his mother, and to revoke the grant of probate to the defendant, his brother, in respect of an earlier will.

The claimant and defendant and their two other brothers were involved in a long-running and acrimonious dispute in a number of jurisdictions over control of the business empire created by their father. There had been proceedings in the Cayman Islands, the Seychelles, Australia and England. Their mother had died in 2011. She had been a shareholder in various family companies. The defendant obtained probate of a will made in 1986 which named him as the sole executor and beneficiary. In 2015 the claimant disclosed the existence of a will said to have been executed in 2005. The defendant said that the will had been forged by the claimant using blank company stationery pre-signed by the mother for another purpose. It was accepted that the will was printed on old company stationery which had had its top and bottom cut off. Similar allegations that the claimant had forged documents using pre-signed papers had been made in other proceedings between the brothers. The claimant's case on execution was supported by witnesses whose evidence was that they had not met in the period immediately before the trial. However, in the witness-box it was admitted that they had met the day before the trial started. The defendant relied on expert evidence showing that although the signature on the will was genuine it did not date from 2005 and was older than the signatures of the witnesses, that there was an impression of another signature of the deceased on the will, consistent with the pre-signing of papers, and that printer toner was to be found on top of the signature but not underneath.

Held

The claimant's account of the genesis and execution of the will was implausible. It was in English although his mother had not been able to read or write in English. It was also odd that cut-down redundant stationery had been used for a will (see paras 38-39 of judgment). His account was also contradicted by the documentary record. In a 2014 email he had said that his mother had never spoken of having executed a will and wanted her jewellery and funds to pass to her four children equally (paras 41-46). The evidence of the claimant's witnesses could not be relied on. The claimant and the witnesses of the 2005 will had lied about not meeting the day before the trial. The likely purpose of the meeting was to rehearse their story (paras 53-76). There was no independent corroboration of the making of the 2005 will. The mother had told no one about it and nor had the claimant. There was no documentary mention of it before 2015. The claimant had a strong motive for forging the 2005 will and exercised influence over the witnesses to it. He also had available to him blank papers pre-signed by his mother, which enabled him to forge the will. The layout of the will was peculiar and necessary to fit round the pre-existing signature. The court also accepted the expert evidence about the impression of another signature on the will, the date of the mother's signature and the different date of the other signatures. The conclusion was that the claimant had forged the 2005 will (para.107).

Claim dismissed.

Chancery Division
Andrew Simmonds QC
Judgment date
10 February 2017
References
[2017] EWHC 133 (Ch)

Previous Members

Jonathan Russen QC