January 6, 2022
Florida Statute 732.502 requires the following for a will to be valid:
Execution of wills.—Every will must be in writing and executed as follows:
(1)(a) Testator’s signature.—
1. The testator must sign the will at the end; or
2. The testator’s name must be subscribed at the end of the will by some other person in the testator’s presence and by the testator’s direction.
There are times when a signature on a will seems suspicious. For instance, family, friends, business colleagues, neighbors, or others who are familiar with the decedent’s handwriting and signature may be convinced that, after seeing the signature on a will, there was some wrongdoing involved with the execution of the will. An interested person to the estate can contest the will, in certain circumstances, to prevent its admission to probate.
A will contest is a lawsuit which requires the contestant to provide evidence to prove their case. This includes witnesses and other evidence. In a will contest which alleges forgery, the will contestant typically presents a handwriting expert. This expert is presented to provide a professional opinion that the signature on the will is a forgery. Sometimes more than one expert opinion is offered by a will contestant. In addition to the handwriting expert presented by the will contestant, the proponent of the will may also submit competing handwriting expert testimony.
Eyewitness testimony is also considered by the court, and eyewitnesses are “fact” witnesses, which differs from expert witnesses. The eyewitnesses are those who are present at the time the will was signed, whose names appear on the will as having witnessed – with their own eyes – the testator signing the will. Their testimony is taken to determine if they did indeed see the decedent (testator) put pen to paper and sign the will. The credibility of eyewitnesses about the validity of the signature is assessed by the court.
If the eyewitnesses give conflicting statements regarding the circumstances of the will execution, their testimony may not have enough weight to prevail over the expert opinions of the handwriting experts. In addition, any contradictions in the eyewitness’ testimony can also affect the credibility of that testimony.