Can Typography Expose a Sham Trust?
In estate litigation it is not uncommon to have reason to engage handwriting experts to attest to the authenticity of a signature on a testamentary document. However, the need to engage a typography expert to speak to the font used on such a document is a much rarer occasion. In McGoey (Re) such an expert was used to expose a sham trust.
In this case, upon Mr. McGoey’s assignment into bankruptcy, the trustee in bankruptcy sought to realize on the assets, seeking a declaration that Mr. McGoey’s interest in two properties held jointly with his wife were assets of the estate and subject to creditor claims. Mr. McGoey and his wife argued that they held title to the properties in trust for their children and, thus, outside the reach of creditors. They asserted that the trust documentation was executed in 1995 for one property and in 2004 for the other.
Upon examination by a typography expert, it was revealed that the dates of execution of the documents were not accurate, as neither Cambria (the typeface on the 1995 document), nor Calibri (the typeface on the 2004 document), were available for use by the general public until 2007. The court accepted the expert’s evidence. However, the issue was not fully resolved, since Mr. McGoey’s financial predicament was not apparent until 2010. He and his wife may have lawfully created trusts for their children between 2007 and 2010.
The court turned its scrutiny to the other circumstances of the case. Although several red flags or “badges of fraud” were found and are cited in the decision, most notable was the fact that nothing distinguished the McGoey’s use of the properties from that of an owner – they used the properties as they desired, encumbered them when they wanted and described themselves as the owners in legal papers. Accordingly, the court concluded that the trusts were shams.
Although both the expert testimony and the surrounding circumstances contributed to the court’s ruling, it seems the evidence of the typography expert would have been definitive on the question had the factual timeline been different. I expect with the ongoing creation of new fonts that we can expect to see increased use of such expert testimony in estate litigation.
Thanks for reading and have a great day,