If you’ve been keeping up with pop-culture and the array of new Netflix shows recently released, then the name “Tiger King” should ring a bell. The outlandish and quirky Netflix mini-series documents eccentric Oklahoman former big-cat zookeeper, Joe Exotic, and his bitter rivalry with his arch-nemesis, Carole Baskin, owner of the Big Cat Rescue sanctuary in Florida. The series concludes with Joe Exotic receiving a 22-year prison sentence for attempting to murder Baskin. Surprisingly, that is not the narrative that caught people’s attention. Rather, viewers took to social media platforms with memes, tweets, and TikTok’s of fans wondering, “Did Carole Baskin kill her husband?”.
Throughout the series, Joe Exotic alleges that Baskin murdered her first husband, Don Lewis, and fed him to the tigers housed in their shared tiger sanctuary (yes, you read that correctly). The mini-series certainly raised suspicions regarding Lewis’ disappearance. Lewis was a millionaire, who disappeared some months after having filed a restraining order against his wife. Baskin ultimately inherited all of Lewis’ assets to the exclusion of his former wife and their two children. Due to the show’s popularity, and the public’s demand for answers, the case of Lewis’ disappearance was reopened by the Hillsborough County Police.
The latest development in the investigation of Lewis’ disappearance came from the Sheriff of the Hillsborough County Police, who advised that experts have determined that Lewis’ last will, under which Baskin was the sole beneficiary, was forged. Apparently, the forgery had been alleged when this case was first brought before Florida courts, although the judge preferred the evidence of Baskin’s expert who found that the signature was not forged. This blog is not intended to explore the veracity of these allegations. However, this news did spark my curiosity with respect to forged wills and their treatment in Ontario courts.
In Ontario, a will can be forged by tracing or forging a person’s signature on a will, removing pages from a will or substituting pages to change the will’s contents, or making amendments to a will after it has been signed without the knowledge or consent of the testator.
If an objector to a will alleges forgery, courts will rely on the evidence of expert examiners. Such was the case in Bayford v Boese, 2019 ONSC 5663, wherein the court relied on the expert evidence of a document examiner who had previously worked in state crime laboratories in the USA and for the FBI. The expert examined and compared several other documents that were known to be signed by the testator to determine whether they had been forged, and ultimately concluded that they had not.
If a will is found to be a product of forgery then it would be declared invalid and the court would seek to rely on the most recent prior will. There could also be criminal consequences that flow from a finding of forgery, pursuant to section 380(1)(a) of the Criminal Code.
It will be interesting to see if anything comes of this new allegation of forgery.
Thank you for reading!
A special thanks to Sean Hess for his contributions to this post.
Alleging a forgery is one thing. Proving it is another. But it may be the surrounding circumstances, rather than handwriting analysis, that ultimately satisfy the trier of fact that a fraud was committed.
Consider a recent case reported in the British media. A widow with a daughter and son left a Will and two Codicils. Her spinster daughter, who had moved into her mother’s residence in the years before her death, was found to have forged the Codicils. Evidence led at trial suggested that the mother was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, and was confrontational with and suspicious of her daughter.
The deceased’s original will divided her home and the rest of her estate equally between her daughter and her son. But in a Codicil, she apparently wrote: “I wish my daughter to keep the house and everything in the house, and any remaining savings to be divided between my daughter and son… I am worried for my daughter’s future as she is unmarried and growing older and I wish her to feel safe here.” [emphasis added]. The second Codicil substantially echoed the first.
The trial judge concluded that the Codicils were forged and, even if not forged, were not made at a time when the deceased had the requisite testamentary capacity.
It may not have helped that the son of the deceased was a "spacecraft propulsion engineer" described by the trial judge as "practical and businesslike", while the daughter, representing herself, "struggled financially."
David M. Smith – Click here for more information on David Smith.
Listen to Will Challenge Litigation – Part 7
This week on Hull on Estate and Succession Planning, Ian and Suzana continue their discussion on the Will Challenge Process, step by step.
They discuss fraud as one of the most serious ways in which a will can be challenged. Evidential requirements are important when allegations of fraud or forgery are made. Handwriting analysis and other scientific means of determining the legitimacy of evidence can be employed to determine whether or not fraud has occurred. Ian and Suzana also talk about lack of proper execution being grounds to challenge a will.
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