Signature on Kerouac’s Will Ruled a Forgery

Adrian Versteegh

The fifteen-year battle for control over the estate of Jack Kerouac reached a turning point on Friday when a Florida judge ruled that the signature on his mother’s will is a forgery. Gabrielle Kerouac purportedly left her son’s assets—including letters, notebooks, and unpublished manuscripts—to his third wife, Stella Sampas Kerouac, in 1973. That bequest has been the subject of a long-running dispute between the Sampas family, which still controls the estate, and Kerouac’s surviving blood-relatives.

The court’s decision is a vindication for Jan Kerouac, the Beat writer’s daughter by his second wife, who first challenged the authenticity of the will and launched a lawsuit in 1994. When she died two years later the case was taken up by Kerouac’s nephew, Paul Blake Jr.

According to testimony given during the trial by a doctor and a handwriting expert, Gabrielle Kerouac, who required constant care from 1970 onward and died as a ward of her daughter-in-law, was too debilitated to produce the signature in question. “Clearly, Gabrielle Kerouac was physically unable to sign the document dated February 13, 1973 and, more importantly, that which appears on the will dated that date is not her signature,” Judge George W. Greer wrote in his decision. “The court does not have to decide who in fact signed her name on the document. It is enough that Gabrielle Kerouac did not herself sign it.”

Blake’s attorney, Bill Wagner, told the Associated Press that Friday’s ruling was “a wonderful ending to this story,” but declined to say what his client would do next. When Kerouac died of complications related to alcoholism in October 1969, his estate—which he left to his mother—was valued at ninety-one dollars. More recent estimates put its worth at about twenty million dollars.