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    16 April 2021

    Carole Baskin and the forged Will

    The “Tiger King”, aka Joe Exotic, hit our screens once in a new feature length film by documentary maker, Louis Theroux. Louis first interviewed Joe back in 2011, when he made a series about America’s most dangerous pets. In the new documentary, he returns to Oklahoma to explore what has happened since his last visit.

    During interviews for the Tiger King, Joe Exotic, publicly accused Carole of murdering her husband so that she could inherit his wealth. Don’s first wife and children also believe Carole was involved in Don’s disappearance and that she had forged his Will – something that Carole emphatically denies. When Louis asked about the circumstances surrounding Don’s death, Carole said she believed that he “crashed an experimental or ultralight out over the gulf”.

    In Louis’ follow up documentary, he pays a visit to Carole and her husband Howard Baskin, to discuss the Netflix show. Among the subjects discussed by Louis, is Carole’s first husband, Don Lewis, whose disappearance in 1997 is still considered an open case. This seems to be a prickly subject for Howard who quickly asks if they could discuss something else before criticising the makers of the Netflix series.

    Howard is highly critical of the way the series portrayed the circumstances and tells Louis “most people came away convinced that Carole killed Don”. He went on to say, “what they did wasn’t just unethical – it was outright cruel”.

    After the Netflix series was released in 2020, there was another twist in the tale as a Florida Sheriff declared that Don’s Will (which left everything to Carole, excluding his ex-wife and children) was forged. Two handwriting experts determined that Don’s signature was “traced” from a previous document. His estate is said to have been worth $10 million. Although criminal charges are not likely due to the statute of limitations, there may still be ongoing investigations regarding a civil case.

    Forged Wills

    It is also important to bear in mind that forgery is a criminal offence and is often dealt with under the criminal law regime. This falls outside the scope of this article and I will be focusing on civil law.

    Forged Wills are generally rare, although that is not to say that it cannot happen.  Forged Wills may be made without the deceased’s knowledge, but a Will could be considered fraudulent if, for example, the signature was forged, even if the deceased created the Will.

    Some people may have the mistaken belief that they are only setting in motion that which the testator (the person making a Will) truly intended. In other words, what they are doing is not really an issue, they are just trying to put things right. Others will have purely fraudulent intent and it is usually to obtain a benefit. There have been cases where people have targeted those who are vulnerable, to make a gain and get them to falsify a Will in their name.

    Alleging a Will has been forged or the testator’s signature has been forged, is a very serious allegation to make and should not be made lightly. There is a high evidential burden to overcome to be successful.

    In these types of cases, expert evidence is usually required. A specialist handwriting expert may need to be instructed. Sometimes the expert’s opinion can be inconclusive, so all the circumstances will need to be considered including details about the Will’s preparation and how it was executed. If a Will is found to be forged, then it will be deemed to be invalid. The default position would then be to revert to the previous valid Will, or if there is not one, the estate would need to be administered in accordance with the Intestacy Rules.

    Our Steeles Contested Probate specialists offer an initial agreed fee consultation to discuss your situation and your options moving forwards.  If you have concerns about forgery or the validity of a will or would like to discuss any of the topics raised in this article, please call Emerald on 01603 598000 or email epriscott@steeleslaw.co.uk.

    *The information provided in this article is designed to provide useful information on the subject, not to provide specific legal advice.

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