Annie Kay was 87 years old when she lost her common-law spouse.
She had no family to speak of, just a cousin. She did have a caregiver who helped her with her day-to-day needs and made it possible for her to remain in her house. She also had assets worth roughly $3.2 million. This tale played out in England but could just have easily occurred in Canada. Greed knows no nationality.
The caregiver, a woman named Mrs. Spillman, mentioned the old woman's situation to her husband, Mr. Spillman. He masterminded a scheme and sprung it into action.
They waited for the woman to leave town for three days, and then brought a different old woman into the house. They trained her to replicate the absent and wealthy Kay's signature. They doctored her appearance so she looked as much as possible like the absent and wealthy Kay. They hid any photographs of the real Kay that were on the walls or tables. They coached the imposter on the right answers to give to questions such as "Who is in your family?"
Most importantly, they coached her on the answer they wanted the imposter to give to the question, "Who should inherit your estate?" The answer: "My faithful caregiver, Mrs. Spillman, and her husband, too."
After everything was perfect, they called in a lawyer. The lawyer met with the imposter in Kay's house and took instructions for a new will for Kay from the imposter. The will left the whole of Kay's fortune to the caregiver and her husband. The lawyer met with the imposter again, and the imposter signed the will.
The fraudulent Mr. and Mrs. Spillman hustled around Kay's house and removed any trace the imposter had been there. They put all the photographs back. Everything was back to normal when the real Kay came back home from her brief trip.
Kay passed away within a year. Mr. and Mrs. Spillman produced the fake will and attempted to claim their prize. What could go wrong? The lawyer would testify he had met "Annie," taken her instructions and signed the will. It was a house call. The woman he met gave all of the right answers to the questions he posed.
The fraudsters got caught. The will was rejected. Mrs. Spillman was sentenced to five years, three months behind bars. Mr. Spillman was sentenced to seven years. His sentence was longer because he masterminded the scheme. He tried to blame it all on his wife. She blamed it all on him.
How were they caught? Someone got nosey. Kay had a will done by a different lawyer. He would have been her executor under the earlier will. The whole thing struck him as fishy. He obtained a copy of the new will from the courthouse. The signature looked wrong. More questions were asked. A photo of the real Kay was shown to the lawyer who met with the imposter. It looked wrong.
Ultimately, the smoking gun was Kay's calendar. It showed she was out of town on the day she allegedly signed the will.
The case caused a stir in the legal profession. Some lawyers are starting to ask for a passport or driver's licence so they can compare the photo with the person making the will. If the lawyer asks all of the detailed questions he or she is supposed to, the person across the desk will generally draw a blank about something they should rightly know. A lawyer doing a good job is a protection against all of this.
This story is a true one. No details have been changed.
What happened to the imposter? Mrs. Spillman had actually convinced her own mother to impersonate Kay. Her mother pleaded guilty. She then testified against her daughter and son-in-law to mitigate her sentence.
John Poyser is a lawyer with Tradition Law LLP. Contact him at 204-947-6802 or firstname.lastname@example.org.