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Who Represents Who

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Birketts LLP is one of a small number of firms with a dedicated contentious trusts and probate practitioner in senior associate Bernadette Baker, who is a member of the Association of Contentious Trust and Probate Specialists (ACTAPS). Commercial litigation partner Paul Matthews leads the practice from Norwich and is ‘proactive, well prepared and a strong advocate for his clients’. Associate Susannah Catchpole is also recommended for contentious probate, trust, commercial and agricultural matters. Baker and Natalie Carman acted for a woman who created an interest in possession trust with minors as beneficiaries and was, therefore, subject to IHT liabilities. At trial the team successfully determined that the claim met the conditions required to enable rectification of the trust to avoid tax. Another key matter saw Baker bring a claim for breach of trust on behalf of a child of a deceased woman who had created a discretionary trust over a joint life investment bond.

Greene & Greene is ‘excellent; it provides first-class advice that always meets clients’ needs and is highly professional even in extremely difficult matters’. ACTAPS member, consultant and family lawyer Kate Chandler and solicitor Ben Foxhave a thorough understanding of probate law and invaluable expertise in the field of highly pressurised litigation’. Fox is also described as ‘knowledgeable, professional and extremely good at his job; he knows how to be sympathetic to the human cost of contentious matters’. Head of the private client department, STEP member and chartered tax adviser Wayne Perrin is also recommended. Chandler and Fox worked together on many high-value contentious matters, including the successful removal of an executor from an estate valued at more than £5m. They also provided advice to a cohabitee on a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 concerning a multimillion-pound estate, and acted in a challenge to the validity of a will on the grounds of want of knowledge and approval.

Hewitsons has a team of three fee earners who are all ACTAPS members and who cover the full spectrum of disputes in this area, often for high-net-worth individuals and charities. The firm not only has a strong track record of success at trial in reported cases, but also stands out for its skills in mediation. Lucinda Brown is ‘a consistently excellent practitioner; her judgement is always wise and she is an absolute pleasure to work with’. Counsel praises her ‘thoroughness, practicality, excellent knowledge of the law and genuine understanding of what the case means to the client’. Solicitor Kate Harris is also recommended. Brown pursued claims for breach of trust on behalf of a lifetime tenant of a trust against his father regarding assets that include major land holdings in Suffolk. The father was removed as trustee by consent and further claims relating to the son’s retirement from the family farming partnership were settled at mediation. Brown also defended a high-net-worth individual in a claim for financial provision from a multimillion-pound estate.

The team at Mills & Reeve LLP is ‘very professional and competent, giving excellent support to its clients’. The firm handles disputes concerning the validity of wills, actions involving trustees and executors, claims under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 and related claims concerning lifetime transactions. It also acts for a number of charities involved in contested legacy matters. ACTAPS member David Catchpole focuses exclusively on contentious trust and probate matters and is ‘thorough and persistent; he keeps clients well informed’. Senior associate Lucy Howard is ‘very supportive and constructive in her advice’. The team recently acted for the husband and son of a deceased woman who left a large part of her estate to relatives with whom she did not have a close relationship. The clients are challenging the validity of the will on the grounds that the deceased lacked testamentary capacity. In another key matter, the team defended a claim concerning a will that left property to a client whose relatives allege undue influence over the deceased.

Ashtons Legal invested in its contentious trusts and probate team in 2016 with the recruitment of solicitor Bee Belby, who joined from Pitmans LLP and adds specialist experience in Agricultural Holdings Act disputes. The team is led by the ‘cool, calm and collected’ Polly Stephenson, who ‘can handle the most difficult situations and clients’, and Rob Adam; they attract praise for ‘always knowing when the strength of the other is better suited to a given situation’. In a key case they acted for a claimant who brought a case against her brother who, while acting as attorney, took a large sum from his late father during his lifetime; Stephenson helped her client apply for a freezing order and move to have her brother removed as an executor. An application for committal for breach of order is now ongoing. Another complex matter involved advising executors on actions against a fellow executor who had taken money from a deceased man while acting as his carer.

Clients of Buckles Solicitors LLPwould unhesitatingly recommend the firm to others’, and the team ‘deals with matters in a professional way, quickly resolving any queries clients may have’. Mediator Paul Branch has 30 years’ litigation experience; he ‘never gives up and always shows empathy, honesty and consideration for clients’. ‘Helpful, professional and determined’ senior solicitor Alex Burch deals primarily with contentious trusts and probate, continuing healthcare claims and care home fee disputes. In 2016, the firm handled two Inheritance Act claims relating to high-value estates, one valued at more than £6.5m and the other at £1.8m. In one standout case the team advised the daughter of the deceased on the rectification of a will.

Clapham & Collinge Solicitors provides ‘excellent service and respects timescales and costs’. Managing partner Tammy Parnell leads the team and is ‘very understanding and approachable, giving a personal service and answering clients’ questions quickly and efficiently’. She expanded the team to include newly qualified solicitor Thomas Keene and consultants Michael Olmer – who has more than 15 years’ litigation experience – and Philip Lumb, who has in-depth knowledge of European and international wills and trusts law. Recent work includes acting on behalf of two executors alleging substantial theft, abuse and neglect and undue influence against beneficiaries of an estate.

Leathes Prior’s specialist team ‘compares very well with the main competition in Norfolk’. The team focuses on contentious probate, property litigation and agricultural disputes and is led by litigator Darren Bowen who is ‘incisive, clear-thinking and a strong advocate for his clients, but always open to practical ideas for settlement’. He is assisted by solicitors Sabina Haag and Calum Paterson, who are praised for their efficiency and technical expertise. The team acted for the wife of a deceased man who was the executrix and sole beneficiary of a multimillion-pound estate in a dispute with her husband’s brother and sister regarding the estate’s entitlement in respect of business partnerships in which they were involved. Bowen also defended a man against claims made against his late parents’ estates in which siblings claimed he exerted undue influence to benefit from shares in a family business.

Tees Law is ‘excellent, always responding fast to queries with good, robust advice’. Senior associate, ACTAPS member and higher court advocate Sara Stabler ‘provides assurance and ultimately achieves very satisfactory resolutions’. Her broad litigation practice increasingly focuses on contentious trust and probate matters for which and clients describe her as ‘passionate about the ability to steer a client in times of extreme stress and emotional instability’. Solicitor Pheobe Street now devotes her practice to this area of law to support Stabler. In 2016, the team acted on behalf of the claimants in a long-running probate dispute between residuary beneficiaries. The case led to the honouring of the deceased’s wishes despite attempts by the defendant who had frustrated a mediation agreement and was ultimately subject to enforcement proceedings and penal notices.

At Fosters, partner Chris Fielding has a niche contentious probate practice representing personal representatives, beneficiaries and potential claimants against estates. In 2016, he advised beneficiaries in a complex dispute with the personal representative of an estate valued at more than £1m that necessitated the issue of High Court action and is currently proceeding in the Chancery Division. He also acted for the executor and residuary beneficiary of an estate valued in the region of £500,000 in relation to an Inheritance (Provision for Family & Dependents) Act 1975 claim where the matter settled substantially in the client’s favour at mediation.

Steeles Law is known for being ‘approachable, thorough and efficient’. Head of wills, probate and tax Karen Bacon has the support of barrister Tom Bailey’s dispute resolution team, which regularly deals with contentious probate matters. Bailey advised the executor of the estate of a deceased traveller in a claim brought by the deceased’s long-term partner, which involved assets in Jersey and Turkey.


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