A judge has ruled that handwriting experts were wrong in concluding that the signature on the will of a bachelor farmer from Limerick was a forgery, writes Jimmy Woulfe.
Three sisters of Conor O’Donnell, aged 66, of Ballyea, Ballingarry, Rathkeale, failed in an application to block his executors who sought to have the will proved in solemn form.
Mr O’Donnell, a graduate of UCC, was described as a well-educated and much-travelled man.
In a 40-minute ruling at Limerick Circuit Court, Judge Brian O’Callaghan ruled against Mr O’Donnell’s sisters.
The executors of Mr O’Donnell’s will are Josie Ahern, Kilrea, Croagh, and John Chawke of Duxtown House, Rathkeale.
Mr O’Donnell’s sisters — Christina Greaney, Kilneash, Ardagh; Catherine Anna Kelly, Roscahill, Galway; and Margaret O’Donnell, Home Farm Park, Dromcondra, Dublin — claimed the signature on the will was forged.
The beneficiaries of the will are nephews of Mr O’Donnell — the court heard that one is solicitor Michael O’Donnell.
Mary Mullane, who wrote out the will, said Mr O’Donnell had written his wishes regarding his will on an A4 sheet and after she wrote the will, this paper was burned in a bucket by Josie Ahern, who signed it along with Ms Mullane.
Three handwriting experts gave evidence about Mr O’Donnell’s signature on the will. Two said it was a forgery and the third said there were strong indicators to suggest it was not that of Mr O’Donnell.
In his ruling, Judge O’Callaghan said Ms Mullane and Ms Ahern were strong witnesses who gave clear answers.
“Neither of them had anything to gain or lose directly or indirectly from the making of this will,” he said.
“They had no reason why they should not tell the truth. Their demeanour in court showed each to be respectable persons who understood the importance of telling the truth. Their evidence was clear and consistent. They both clearly had a connection and a fondness for the deceased.”
Judge O’Callaghan said there was no evidence to suggest some form of conspiracy between the two women and the principal beneficiaries, the O’Donnell nephews.
Ms Mullane, chairwoman of Limerick IFA family farm group, said she had helped Mr O’Donnell over the years with forms about various farm schemes.
On May 18, 2012, she said she got a call from Ms Ahern to go to her house, where Mr O’Donnell had an A4 paper with details written on it about what he had and to whom he was leaving it. The property included land, cash, animals, Kerry Group shares, and machinery.
Ms Ahern said that after the will was signed, she hung the will in a plastic bag behind clothes in her wardrobe where it remained until the day Mr O’Donnell died two years later in April 2014.
Judge O’Callaghan ordered the original copy of the will remain in custody of the Limerick county registrar in the event of an appeal. He said: “I hope nothing in this case should put anybody off becoming an executor of a will. These cases are the exception and very seldom.”
This article first appeared in the Irish Examiner.