Avoid a Will Disaster – Use Your Cell Phone

When it comes to the death of a family member, there are no words that can express the sense of loss. Then comes the reading of the will, and OMG, you suddenly discover the true colors of your relatives. Suddenly, your green-eyed brother from out-of-state arrives to partake of the distribution of Mom’s estate. Only to find that he is the proud recipient of $1 and his old Huffy from 1960 that had been painstakingly stored in the attic for all these years.

“There is no way Mom would have left me out of her will,” he declares. “Someone has changed it and forged her signature, and I can prove it!”

Just those few little words can take your entire family down a road that no one wants to travel. The memories of your loved one are overshadowed by your efforts to see to it that her wishes are fulfilled. Meanwhile, Mr. Huffy has called his high school buddy who is now an attorney in town, and what should have been the culmination of the necessary business at hand, takes on a life of its own.

This scenario or one very similar to it, plays out all too often. As a forensic document examiner, the author is regularly asked to verify the authenticity of a signature on a will or trust under just these conditions (or worse). For this type of case, the original “inked” signature in question is compared to an adequate amount of signatures from the time period which is known to be genuine. Then an opinion is rendered within the limitations of the quality and quantity of examples that are available. (If the inked originals are not available, the best quality copies are used.)

As a mobile notary, the author has been called to numerous hospital bedsides, faced with the sometimes daunting task of obtaining signatures from ailing writers. First we must assure the signer understands what he is signing and is doing so of his own free will. Then we face the challenge of placing a reclining individual in a position that is adequate for him to sign his name (sometimes repeatedly).

Here’s where your cell phone comes in. You knew we would get to that sooner or later.

It is all too common for the handwriting of a patient to be quite different than usual while signing from his hospital bed, or even a wheel chair. Complicate that with illness and a possible cornucopia of medications, and we have the ingredients of potential problems down the road.

Why not do the best you can to avoid such problems later? Use your cell phone to document the activities of the signing. If you can record video, have the signer talk about the document he or she is signing so that there will be little reason to question its validity in the future. At the very least, take a photo of the signing and of the document while it is being signed.

After all is said and done, don’t be surprised if your green-eyed brother shows up anyway. If you are prepared with your visual documentation and everything else is in order, you can bring him his Huffy and his dollar and tell him to go get himself a Coke at McDonald’s.