Inheritance forgery can take many forms, including phony estate planning documents that redirect assets to a scammer and fake deeds that spring the family home from the decedent’s estate. Forgery used to be a crime that could result in the death penalty. But in the mid-twentieth century, concern about forgery waned. Based in part on the perception that counterfeit estate plans are rare, several states relaxed the formalities traditionally associated with wills in an effort to avoid technical deficiencies that might cause them to fail.
Has the pendulum swung too far? In California and elsewhere, inheritance forgery may be more common than many folks assume and perhaps we should find new ways to combat it. Certainly we should keep forgery risks in mind as we consider statutory innovations like electronic wills created on smartphones.
Professor David Horton is our guest for this episode. The topic of this podcast, his co-authored piece Inheritance Forgery, appeared in the Duke Law Journal and can be downloaded along with his other articles here.
The podcast begins with a tale about high stakes fraud in rural Kansas. As reported in an appellate opinion, an elderly widower named Earl Field hired Wanda Oborny to be his bookkeeper. She forged a codicil (i.e., amendment) to his will and nearly ended up with half of his $20 million estate, to the detriment of a local university. Justice prevailed (after a lengthy trial and appeal) and Oborny eventually pleaded guilty to mail fraud. Along the way, a murder/suicide took the lives of the two “witnesses” to the codicil.
About Our Guest
David Horton is a Professor of Law at UC Davis. He received his B.A. cum laude from Carleton College in 1997 and his J.D. from UCLA School of Law in 2004. At UCLA, he was elected to the Order of the Coif and served as Chief Articles Editor of the UCLA Law Review. He then practiced at Morrison & Foerster in San Francisco and clerked for the Honorable Ronald M. Whyte of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California.
Horton teaches and writes in the areas of wills and trusts, arbitration law, and contracts. His work has won several national awards and appeared in the Yale Law Journal, Stanford Law Review, N.Y.U. Law Review, University of Pennsylvania Law Review, California Law Review, among many other journals.
About Our Host
Jeffrey Galvin is a partner at Downey Brand LLP based in Sacramento. He litigates trust and estate cases across Northern California. He created and edited the blog Trust on Trial. He is a member of the Executive Committee of the Trusts and Estates Section of the California Lawyers Association. This is his first foray into podcasting.
Produced by: Foley Marra Studios