Fakin’ it when they should have been makin’ it….

2 May 2012

The partner of a millionaire estate agent who died suddenly has been found guilty of creating a fake will, when she discovered his divorce had never been finalised. But Gillian Clemo, who forged the will of her lover Chris John, would have had an excellent chance of receiving a large pay out from his estate if she had obtained legal advice on her rights, instead of taking the law into her own hands. That's the view of legal experts following her conviction for forgery. Mr John was a wealthy estate agent from Wales whose wife, Helen, left him when had an affair with Gillian Clemo. Acrimonious divorce proceedings followed and Mr John and Ms Clemo set up home together. Seven years later Mr John died leaving an estate valued at £5 million but with no will. A dispute over who should administer the estate developed and in the midst of this it was discovered, to the surprise of everyone involved – including Helen John herself – that the divorce between Mr and Mrs John had never been finalised. The result was that Mrs John and her daughter would be entitled to the estate between them. A few days later, Ms Clemo claimed to have discovered a will, in which Mr John left the estate to his daughter and appointing his sisters to be executors. In a bizarre twist, his ex wife Helen then produced what she claimed was a codicil, an addition to the will, changing the executors. This was quickly shown to be a forgery and Mrs John was cautioned by the police, but soon suspicion fell on the will recently discovered by Ms Clemo, as the signature did not look like Mr John's and his daughter's name was mis-spelt twice. When the case reached court, it took the jury just 90 minutes to decide that Ms Clemo was guilty of having forged the will, in the apparent hope that Mr John's sister would allow her to continue to live in the home she had shared with Chris John. "The sad aspect of this case is that any solicitor skilled in this area of the law would have advised Ms Clemo that she would have an excellent chance of benefitting from the estate if she made a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975," said contentious probate expert Danny Carter, Partner of Chelmsford based solicitors Gepp & Sons: " This Act allows certain people to make a claim to the Courts if they feel that the will of a person who has died, or the intestacy rules if the deceased left no will, do not make 'adequate financial provision' for the person claiming." The class of people who may make a claim under the Inheritance Act includes a person who has, for at least two years ending with the date of death, been living in the same household as the deceased if they were living 'as man and wife'. On this basis Ms Clemo would have qualified to make a claim, and although there is no guarantee of success, the courts can take a very wide range of factors into account. The fact that the Johns' divorce was never finalised because of an oversight that remained undetected would be one of them. The courts have power to make a wide variety of orders which can include that a claimant can carry on living in a particular property, which appears to have been all that Ms Clemo was seeking. Danny Carter added: "This is an extraordinary story and the awful mess could so easily have been avoided if either Mr John or Ms Clemo had taken legal advice. Mr John could easily have made a will that would have satisfied Ms Clemo's need for security without denying his daughter any of her reasonable expectations. And even with that will missing, Ms Clemo would very likely have succeeded in obtaining her fairly modest wish to remain in the couples' house in Cardiff, if she had made a claim under the Inheritance Act." • For additional information or comment please contact: Danny Carter of Gepp & Sons. This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.