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Forging the Will

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Great Aunt Gladys: Now, let's get down to business.
Lionel Hutz: [on tape, with no attempt to hide the fact it's dubbed] To my executor, Lionel Hutz, I leave $50,000.
Marge: Mr. Hutz!
Lionel Hutz: [in real life] You'd be surprised how often that works, you really would.

Bob, the ridiculously rich owner of Trope & co., is finally dead. He wants to leave everything to his children in his will, but his Treacherous Advisor or his Gold Digger wife interferes.

A common plotline during a Succession Crisis or inheritance squabbles involves someone altering the contents of the deceased's will. Whether by forgery, magic or other shenanigans, the individual will tamper with the document or replace it with a new one, leaving the succession to himself or his heirs. The rightful heir will be stunned, and his suspicions will eventually lead him to pursue the truth. Often, the perpetrator will be an aunt, uncle or a Gold Digger spouse. In real life, a will that is found to have been forged or unduly influenced by another party will be found invalid by a probate court, which generally results in the estate being distributed by intestate succession statutes instead. Getting a will notarized in reality will help to avert this, however, expect that not to be the case in fiction.

If the deceased's will has not been found, see Lost Will and Testament. Common in Law Procedural and Murder Mysteries.


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    Comic Books 
  • In "A Fat Tip For Murder!", a story printed in Crime Does Not Pay (a comic book retelling true crime stories), a hospital orderly is left $50.00 in a grateful wealthy patient's new will, then told to deliver it to the patient's attorney. He alters the will so that he will inherit $5000 instead, then murders the patient to ensure that he can't be asked if this is a typo. Unfortunately for the orderly, both the patient's attorney and a nurse catch on.
  • Robin (1993): Tim Drake thoroughly edits his parents' wills, not to get more money since they left him everything that wasn't left to his stepmother Dana anyway, but to put in sections on his guardianship in order to avoid becoming a ward of the state. He creates a fictional brother for his father and even leaves the man (a hired actor) a portion of his father's estate in order to have control over who he lives with and where.

  • Casper: Discussed. Upon learning the contents of her father's will, Carrigan berates Dibbs for not forging one.
  • Variation in the 1989 Batman movie, where following the death of Carl Grissom, boss of Gotham City's extensive underworld, the cover story is that he's disappeared somewhere else, and one of his old underlings tries to publicly claim that Grissom left him in charge of all his businesses until he comes back. A gathering of reporters are, collectively, skeptical of this, while supporting character Knox starts to ask if they can prove it all, but rolls his eyes almost as he says it and is already sure they have that arranged. As a representative starts to go through the motions, claiming that they have witnesses to the signing, that's when the Joker (who, in fact, saw Grissom die because he's the one who pulled the trigger) turns up with a point-sharp feather pen...
    Joker: It is legitimate! I saw it. I was there. I saw it all! He reached up with his dead hand... and signed it in his own blood. And he did it... with this pen...

  • In the Deryni novel Camber The Heretic, Cinhil Haldane's will turns out to contain a codicil that allows an anti-Deryni faction amongst the regents to seize power. Whether the codicil is legitimate or forged is never made clear. Then in The Bastard Prince, Cinhil's son Rhys Michael alters his will to give legal cover to a move against the evil regents.
  • In A Song of Ice and Fire and the TV show based on it, Game of Thrones, as King Robert is dying, he dictates his will for Eddard Stark to write. Robert says "to my son, Joffrey", but Ned replaces this with "to my rightful heir", as he had learned that Joffrey is not actually Robert's son.
  • Lampshaded in Witches Abroad. When being told the story of how the old Baron of Genua died, Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg both make the assumption that the one now in control, the Duc, has control because of a will discovered shortly after the Baron's death with the ink still wet. They're not far off the mark, but the Duc is actually a Puppet King being controlled by someone else entirely.
  • Discussed in the Dick Francis novel Hot Money. The protagonist's very rich father is considering changing his will, and the protagonist tells him how to get the new will registered with the Probate Office, so that if the father dies suddenly (which is quite possible since someone is trying to kill him), it will be impossible to produce a fake or forged will and get it executed.
  • The Divine Comedy (Inferno, Canto XXX) mentions that Gianni Schicchi, one of the souls in the eighth circle of Hell, had impersonated Buoso de Donati in order to create a forged will which assigned a prize mare to himself. This brief mention was adapted into Puccini's one-act opera Gianni Schicchi, which gives the title character a noble motive for his alleged greed.
  • In Five Minute Mini Mysteries by Stan Smith, one story involves the will of a dead tycoon who planned to leave his fortune to charity. A fake will turns up which divides his money between three relatives (presumably the forger included the other two to avoid standing out as the obvious culprit). The protagonists deduce the culprit due to the order of the numbers in the fake will's date suggesting an American civilian wrote it. Of the other suspects, one is British and the other is a soldier.
  • In Skinny Dip by Carl Hiaasen, Mick Stranahan forges a will in the name of presumed-dead Joey Perrone, leaving $13 million to her husband, as a ploy to find out just how greedy he really is. Joey would never have lavished such money on her scumbag of a husband as long as she was alive, which she happens to still be.
  • In the Hercule Poirot book Peril at End House the will of Magdala "Nick" Buckley is forged by the Crofts.
    • In another Christie story, the dying rich woman had made a will in favor of her relatives, but since then had fallen under the influence of a pair of scammers, with the new will being massively in their favor. Everyone- her friends, her relatives, her servants- could see they were up to no good, but could do nothing against the will. After her death, the will was removed from its sealed envelope... and contained nothing but blank paper, meaning the previous will was considered the right one, leaving the scammers with nothing. The new will was written in slow-acting Invisible Ink that would eventually become transparent.
  • Judge Dee: A complicated case in "The Chinese Maze Murders": On the death of a great court official, his will gave a good deal to his second wife and her son. His first son challenged the will and produced a "real" one that disinherited the widow for adultery, claiming her son was from an affair. The son left only an ornate painting by the official to the widow, which she presented to every magistrate when they took up residence every few years, along with her story. Finally Dee is able to crack the code and discover the secret of the painting, the true will (in which the official begs the reader to have some mercy for his misguided son), and the just-killed corpse of a kidnapped woman (unrelated to the will case, the murderer is a Psycho Lesbian and an artist who figured out the painting's secret and used the hiding place to keep her victim away). The son bursts into tears when the real will is read out in public, but since he plotted to betray the city to barbarian hordes and rule as a satellite kingdom, the posthumous plea probably won't have much effect on his sentence.
  • An interesting variation in a French continuation of Arsène Lupin by Frederic Lenormand where the will is forged but no one will be able to tell because the deceased had such bad handwriting (it was barely not a case of Never Learned to Read) that he trusted his secretary with writing up all his documents and signature, thus the "discovered" testament will stand up to any analysis of the handwriting. The secretary (who had a platonic adoration for her boss based on their shared love of art) does this after Arsene thinks it up, the man's wife being a cold-blooded murderer and the secretary being a Beleaguered Assistant, giving her the art collection she and the deceased both worked on and his house in Turin.
  • The Case of the Velvet Claws: The will leaving everything to George Belter's nephew Carl Griffin is a forgery. This turns out to be an unusual example in that Belter actually did leave everything to Carl. George's widow Eva, who knows that Carl knows about the will, destroys the genuine copy and forges another will leaving everything to Carl, intending for it to be exposed as a forgery.
  • In the Thora book The Green Sea-Unicorn, Louella's father Jerome and stepmother Blandina plan to allow the croquet player Ricardo le Drone to build five Olympic-sized croquet courts on their estate in order to make it the setting of a reality show focused on croquet hooligans, in accordance with the wishes of Jerome's late father Lionel. But then a lawyer finds that Lionel's will was amended to give Ricardo permission to build the courts several hours after Lionel's death, meaning that Ricardo and Blandina forged it.
  • The Jekyll Legacy (by Robert Bloch and Andre Norton): Inspector Newcomen comes to suspect that Jekyll's lawyer Utterson is guilty of this after reading Dr. Jekyll's will, which has been changed to leave everything to Utterson himself instead of Hyde (whose name has been crossed out and replaced with Utterson's). As readers of the original book will know though, he didn't — Jekyll changed the will himself before becoming Hyde one last time and then committing suicide.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Monk, "Mr. Monk and the Other Woman". Todd Katterskill knew he'd been cut out of his uncle's will, so he forged one saying he had inherited everything and hid it in the files belonging to Pratt, his uncle's lawyer. He killed Pratt to keep him from outing it as a fake and burned a file at random to send the police on a wild goose chase.
  • Game of Thrones: Portrayed sympathetically when, as he is dying, King Robert dictates his will for Eddard Stark to write. Robert says "to my son, Joffrey", but Ned replaces this with "to my rightful heir", as he has learned that Joffrey is not actually Robert's son but wishes to spare his dying friend the truth.
  • One Rumpole of the Bailey story revolves around a forged will; Rumpole is retained by the true beneficiary to represent her in challenging the false will. (He's initially reluctant to venture into a civil court case, but he can't resist a good forgery.)
  • In the French TV series Le Retour d'Arsène Lupin has an episode titled "La tabatière de l'Empereur" (The Emperor's snuff box) in which the titular Gentleman Thief inherits from a friend a snuff box that saved that friend's life during the war. When said box is not mentioned at the reading of the will, he knows it has been forged because the defunct was too honor-bound to simply forget about it.
  • In one episode of Brazilian TV series Flora Encantada (Enchanted Flora), Gana Ganância (in case you're wondering, "Ganância" means "Greed") stole the will through which Flora inherited her Grandfather's lands and forged one where he named Ganância as his heir.
  • In Brazilian series "Você Decide" (You Decide), there was a story where a wealthy man wouldn't leave his son and his daughter more than required by law and intended to leave everything else to a center of medical research. While he was dictating the terms to his lawyer, who was writing it by using a typewriter, he had a choke and decided to sign it and trust the lawyer (who already knew his intentions) to do the right thing. That episode's dilemma was about being honest or forging the will.
  • Rome. Marc Antony doesn't do anything to Julius Caesar's will (it leaves all his money to Octavian, whom Antony assumes he can control) but isn't above using this trope for other corrupt practices.
    Mark Antony: Why are you here?
    Cicero: You sent for me.
    Antony: Oh yes, that. Show him. [Posca hands Cicero a roll of paper]
    Cicero: [inspecting the paper] It appears to be a list of every dishonest rascal in the city.
    Antony: Very droll. It is a list of next year's election candidates drawn up by our beloved Caesar just before he was taken from us. Posca found it amongst his papers.
    Cicero: Oh, another lucky find? You are prodigious, Posca.

    Video Games 
  • In Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords, there is a horde of salvage worth a small fortune stuck in legal limbo on Dantooine, as everybody with a legal claim to it is dead. The authorities have had to deal with numerous forged wills and the player character can ultimately wind up finding the real will. You have the choice of whether or not to alter the will in order to inherit the contested loot. If you do alter the will, the authorities will recognize it but will give you the cache anyway because they are tired of dealing with the issue. If you do not alter it, the situation remains ultimately unresolved as it leaves the horde to somebody who is also dead, so there is still no clear solution for the authorities.
  • In Professor Layton and the Last Specter, Chief Constable Levin 'Third Eye' Jakes changes Mr Barde's, the primary landowner of the town, will to leave the majority of Misthallery to Mayor Triton, Barde's only friend, as part of Jakes' plan with Jean Descole to become Mayor and find the Golden Garden.
  • The Forger in Town of Salem does this as his primary role, where he can change up to three wills per game to spread false information or make it a Lost Will and Testament, in order to protect the Mafia.
  • One of the late game plot points of Another Code is the revelation that one of the two Edwards brothers attempted this to gain access to the family fortune after their father died. This act ultimately leads to the breaking point between them and ends up with one of them dead.

    Western Animation 
  • Spoofed in The Simpsons: When Marge's great-aunt Gladys dies she leaves a Video Will. The lawyer edits it to say "I leave my lawyer $50,000." A look from the family lets him know they don't believe it, but he says "You'd be surprised how often that works, you really would!"
  • Stunt Dawgs: Fungus' lawyer forged a will where Splat's family's fortune belongs to Skidd and Skidd has to keep it otherwise the Stunt Dawgs will lose their funds.
  • Scooby-Doo and Guess Who?: In "Hollywood Knights!", the gardener who works at the supposedly haunted mansion is trying to scare the late owner's daughter so nobody would challenge the will he forged to make himself the new owner.

    Real Life 
  • Howard Hughes died without a will, and several forgeries turned up. The most famous one was by Melvin Dummar, who claimed that he had picked up Hughes hitchhiking one day and was given $156 million in a handwritten will. This later became the basis for the film Melvin and Howard.
  • Since one way of imperial succession in eighteenth century Russia was a will written by a reigning emperor, pretenders were known to show up with documents like these. Princess Tarakanova is the most well-known one, claiming to be an illegitimate daughter of the late Empress Elizabeth and sporting a convincing enough will that supposedly legitimized her birth.
  • Businessman William Marsh Rice planned to leave most of his substantial fortune to the university that he founded. One of his attorneys and his valet conspired together to murder him and replace his will with a forgery that would have given them substantial bequests. Although the forgery also gave gifts to numerous other people in an attempt to make it in their interest not to contest it, one of Rice's other attorneys pursued the matter and the entire plot was uncovered, after which the fortune went to the institution as Rice originally intended.