On Friday, October 18 I had the privilege of presenting “Document Fraud in Elder Abuse and Probate Cases” to the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys at their conference in Coronado, CA. This organization is excellent at planning. They have speakers perform a microphone check and test presenting the slides the day before the presentation. They make sure all aspects of the presentation are run flawlessly. This is definitely an organization that focuses on the members and goes out of the way to deliver excellence.
This was the first time I have delivered a two-hour presentation without a break. The audience was excellent. Attendees used the microphones on the room to ask questions. They were very good questions.
The presentation used cases on which I have worked during the past few years. Various means of fabricating documents were explored.
An interesting method by which signatures were applied to documents is using a cut-and-paste technique. This technique is performed by cutting a person’s legitimate signature from a document, then applying it to a new document. In prior days, this was performed by literally cutting the signature from a paper document. Often, a photocopy was made, then the signature was cut from the photocopy. Modern techniques are to scan the source document, then lift the signature using software such as Photoshop, GIMP, and Photo Paint. The lifted signature is then placed onto the fabricated document. The result is a valid signature on an invalid document. Using software techniques, skilled document examiners can often discover the alteration.
Other methods of fabricating documents in elder abuse and probate cases are to simulate the person’s signature onto a document. In one case, I showed that the signature on the change of beneficiary form comported with the decedent’s signature from before his stroke. After the stroke, he could barely write his last name. His last name was clearly written on this document. I showed the wife (stepmother) wrote the text on the form. I could not show whether she wrote the signature.
Attendees were shown clues to watch for when a prospective client claims that a document is not authentic. This helps the attorney know whether they have a valid case. In one instance, I told my client that his client wrote a holographic will. The will that left everything to the attorney’s client was not written by her aunt.