Judge rules son forged mum's will in family feud

He did so to secure an edge over his brothers in a tussle over multimillion-dollar business

Two brothers clashed over a will left by their late mother that would have given the beneficiary greater control over the family business empire.

Mr Girish Patel, 65, argued that the will, from 2005, was valid. It named him as the sole executor and beneficiary of Mrs Prabhavati Patel's estate. The estate included her late husband's assets, which were transferred to her after he died without a will.

But Dr Yashwant Patel, 70, alleged that Girish fabricated the will to secure control of the assets. He said that an earlier will from 1986, anointing him the sole executor and beneficiary, was valid.

Mrs Patel - who had two other sons, Rajnikant, 72, and Suresh, 64 - died in London in September 2011.

Recently, a London court held that the 2005 will was forged and ruled that the 1986 will was valid.

The legal tussle between Girish and Yashwant was part of a long-running and acrimonious court fight among the four siblings over control of the family business empire, which the judge noted might be worth US$200 million (S$282 million).

The court found that Girish had influenced two others - Ms Ranjanbala Patel and Ms Jayshree Patel - to both "falsely" witness the will, which was forged on blank papers signed in advance by Mrs Patel.

"I am not able to attach any weight to the account of events given by Girish, Ranjanbala and Jayshree except to the extent they are reliably corroborated by other evidence," wrote English High Court Deputy Judge Andrew Simmonds, in decision grounds issued last month.

Mrs Patel had lived in Singapore with Suresh and his family in the 40 years leading up to her death. Her husband, Mr D. P. Patel - who came to Singapore with her in the early 1950s and started a commodities business - died in 1992.

The family business continued to thrive and now operates on a global scale through several corporate vehicles, including the Aumkar Plantations in Malaysia, Barrowfen Properties in Britain and Australian company Agromin, which trades in pulses and grains.

Although Mrs Patel lived in Singapore with Suresh, she regularly visited her three other sons in the United States, Australia and Britain.

Girish claimed that it was during a 2005 visit to London, where he lived, that she made the will naming him the sole executor and beneficiary of her estate.

He claimed that Mrs Patel had signed the will, witnessed by his former employee Ranjanbala and by Jayshree, who was married to his brother-in-law.

Girish said that his mother did not mention she had made a will in 1986 in Yashwant's favour.

Yashwant, who trained as a doctor in Singapore and is now a New York-based senior radiologist, alleged that Girish fabricated the will to secure control of the assets.

The assets included shares in family companies, registered in Mrs Patel's name, which would have given him an advantage in ongoing litigation among the brothers over the Patel businesses.

The judge noted that in the proceedings involving the will, Suresh actively supported Yashwant's case while Rajnikant played no part at all.

He observed that expert evidence was called by both parties on the newer will but "there was no expert evidence which went positively to support Girish's account of the execution of the will in 2005".

"I accept Yashwant's contention that Girish had a strong motive for forging the will," said Judge Simmonds, in rejecting the document.

When contacted by The Straits Times, Mr Ajaib Haridass, the Singapore lawyer for Yashwant, said: "We are extremely satisfied with the outcome of the judgment."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 03, 2017, with the headline 'Judge rules son forged mum's will in family feud'. Print Edition | Subscribe