“Inheritance Forgery” Podcast – Theft from Tigers Averted

Downey Brand LLP

Fort Hayes State University in Kansas, home of the Tigers, almost lost a $20 million donation because of a forged codicil (amendment) to the will of Earl Field. Earl was a World War II pilot, successful businessperson, and booster of FHSU. He died in 2013 at the age of 98. The forgery was proven only after a murder-suicide of two key witnesses and a lengthy trial followed by an appeal. In 2019, FHSU was able to roar in celebration of the largest gift in its 117-year history.

Hear the story of Earl’s will, and the broader problem of inheritance forgery, in a podcast episode that I hosted, released today.

“Trust Me!” is the new podcast of the Trusts and Estates Section of the California Lawyers Association, hosted by Executive Committee members. This episode features my conversation with UC Davis School of Law Professor David Horton.

David’s article on “Inheritance Forgery,” which appeared in the Duke Law Journal in 2020, caught my eye. Clients who are unhappy with the terms of wills and trusts often come to me with suspicions that handwriting or signatures are fake. Consultations with forensic document examiners sometimes follow. Trials may feature conflicting testimony from expert witnesses who compare challenged signatures with known exemplars.

In his article, David challenges the “conventional wisdom” that forgery is rare, concluding instead that “the ancient scam of will forgery remains a serious problem.” He suggests ways to strengthen inheritance law’s protections against forgery – for example, by shifting the burden of proving the validity of a document when there certain indicators of fraud.

An award-winning teacher, David brings his curiosity and enthusiasm to the fascinating and perhaps underappreciated topic of inheritance forgery.

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