Fraud in Maryland Wills
A will is an important document and like other legal documents, it should be authentic and not fraudulently prepared or executed. There are several ways to identify and prevent fraud in Maryland wills, but first and foremost is making sure you retain the services of an experienced attorney who can help guide you through the complex process. If you are concerned that a loved one has fraudulently executed a will, Maryland wills lawyers can help you investigate this matter and potentially initiate a will contest proceeding.
Lack of Mental Capacity
Every person who executes a will in Maryland must be at least 18 years old and of sound mind. A person is generally of sound mind if they have the mental capacity to understand:
- The contents of their will
- They are signing a will
- The nature of their property
- The members of their family
In a case of lack of mental capacity, although the signature on a will belongs to the testator, since they did not have the requisite mental capacity to understand what they were signing, the resulting will is likely fraudulent and invalid.
Undue Influence in Fraud
A will is not valid in Maryland if it was not signed as a person’s free act. Undue influence is a legal defense that describes a situation where a person was so significantly controlled and persuaded by another that they are no longer acting under their own free will.
Elderly or disabled persons, unfortunately, are more commonly susceptible to undue influence. Some indications of undue influence include:
- The testator was susceptible to influence by the beneficiary
- The testator was in a confidential relationship with the beneficiary
- The beneficiary had an opportunity to exert control over the testator
- The testator made substantial changes to their previous will
- The testator’s will contains a disproportionately large disposition for the beneficiary
The court will analyze these factors and the facts of the individual case to make a determination as to whether a will was signed as a result of undue influence. A will signed under an undue influence may be partially or entirely considered to be fraud in Maryland.
If a person is not subject to undue influence, they are entitled to execute a will disposing of their estate in any manner they wish. If they plan to execute a will that disinherits family members or has unconventional distributions, they may benefit from the assistance of an attorney.
A Maryland trust and estates attorney can document a person’s wishes to help prevent a will contest or provide evidence supporting a lack of undue influence.
Fraudulent and Forged Signatures in Maryland Wills
If a will is signed by someone other than the testator, this may be a case of fraudulent execution, and fraud in Maryland wills in nothing to be taken lightly. There are some precautions a person can take to prevent the fraudulent execution of a will. Signing a will in the presence of a notary public, while not required in Maryland, can help to prevent a forged signature. The purpose of notarization is for the notary public to properly identify the person who is signing the will.
Under Maryland law, a will is required to be signed by two persons in the testator’s presence (see Maryland Code Section 4–102). This witness requirement also helps ensure a will’s authenticity. To add additional protection, an individual may want to sign their will at an attorney’s office. An attorney will oversee the document execution to make sure that they understand what they are signing and that their will is properly signed, witnessed and notarized. Initialing or signing every page of their will can also make it more difficult for a person to fraudulently substitute a page of their will.