The Wife, The Mistress and Two Wills

BarristerYears ago I attended the funeral of a dear friend who died much too early. His memorial service was both solemn and awkward. Seated in the front row of the church were his estranged wife, his current common law wife and his girlfriend. As you can imagine, the complexity of his personal life caused difficulties in settling his estate.

In a similarly difficult case, British real estate tycoon Chris John 47, died suddenly without a will, until two wills surfaced.

One of the immediate problems was that Mr. John believed he and his wife, Helen John, were divorced, but upon his early demise it was discovered that the final divorce order had never been pronounced, albeit they had separated seven years earlier.

As a legal spouse, with entitlement to his $6 million estate, the battle lines were drawn between Mr. John’s wife and his mistress, Gillian Clemo, against a backdrop of not one, but two wills.

John’s mistress miraculously located a will three days after hearing that her boyfriend was still married to his wife. Witnesses testified that Ms. Clemo collapsed on the floor when she learned that her boyfriend and his wife were not divorced.

Mrs. John also discovered a will, but when questioned by police readily admitted she had forged the will to ensure their 15-year-old daughter received her share of the estate. She also advised the investigators she was certain that Gillian Clemo had forged the will produced by her, as the signature on the will was not her husband’s.

Ms. Clemo’s “will” named her as the primary beneficiary of her lover’s estate and permitted her to reside in his luxury home in Cardiff, Wales until Mr. John’s daughter reached the age of 27 and then it would belong to her. Ms. Clemo swore an affidavit that stated the will was genuine and she had witnessed Mr. John’s signature on the will.

Unfortunately for Ms. Clemo, the will was riddled with errors including the misspelling of Mr. John’s daughter’s name.

A forensic document examiner testified at Ms. Clemo’s trial that the signature was not Mr. John’s and a Welsh jury convicted Ms. Clemo on charges of forgery. She awaits her sentencing but is not expected to receive jail time.

With no will, the estate will be divided between Mrs. John and her daughter.

As American writer Ambrose Bierce observed: “Death is not the end. There remains the litigation over the estate.”

STORY UPDATE

In 2011 Gillian Clemo was convicted of forgery and fined approximately $10,000. Ms. Clemo appealed the decision to no avail. However, in September of 2013 the Criminal Cases Review Commission, a body set up to review cases where there may be a miscarriage of justice, agreed to assess her case on the basis of new evidence. That evidence included a fresh handwriting analysis and the discovery of a copy of a will identical to the one allegedly forged by Ms. Clemo. With this new development, Mr. John’s estate is again in limbo.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

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