Contentious trusts and probate in East Anglia

Birketts LLP

The Norwich office of Birketts LLP has a stellar reputation in private wealth disputes, including Inheritance Act matters, charitable legacy disputes,  challenges to the validity of wills and TOLATA claims. Longstanding ACTAPS member Bernadette Baker leads the practice and, according to clients, 'not only has the experience required in this area, but she listens to her clients, takes careful account of the evidence and the law, and works very closely with counsel to protect her clients' interests'. 'Friendly and professional' senior associate Marie McMahon and commercial litigator Max Roessler also play key roles in the practice.

Practice head(s):

Bernadette Baker

Other key lawyers:

Marie McMahon; Max Roessler

Testimonials

‘Excellent, helpful and friendly service.’

‘The team is led by Bernadette Baker, and it is clear that the junior members of the team both trust and respect her. The confidence they have in her knowledge and skills makes for a smooth-running team which benefits the clients. Everyone is very clear on their roles and the communication is excellent despite the challenges presented by the pandemic.’

‘I changed to Birketts following a recommendation, and they are light years ahead of the previous firm I worked with. Bernadette Baker not only has the experience required in this area, but she listens to her clients, takes careful account of the evidence and the law, and works very closely with Counsel to protect her clients’ interests. She is clearly respected by her colleagues and by Counsel which instils much-needed confidence when working through the distressing process of contentious probate law.’

‘The whole process for myself and my siblings with dealing with Birketts, in particular Bernadette Baker, was made so much easier for us to cope with due to brilliant communication from start to finish – from everything to dealing with the case through to price breakdowns. Brilliant.’

‘Bernadette Baker dealt with our case and we couldn’t have wished or asked for a better legal representative for us – outstanding. Especially at a very difficult and upsetting time for myself and my siblings, having just lost our father and his Will being contested; everything was explained, the process, the progression; we felt nothing was left unanswered – A fantastic solicitor and someone I definitely would not like to come up against.’

Greene & Greene

Greene & Greene in Bury St Edmunds has 'strong knowledge and experience in contentious trusts and probate work, and also provides wonderful client service'. Michael Batty and the 'very personable and reassuring' Rob Adam are 'proactive and give clear advice' on matters including actions for the removal of personal representatives and trustees, challenges to the validity of wills, Inheritance Act claims, and high-value trusts disputes. The firm increasingly acts for a client base in East Anglia, London and further afield. Consultant and full ACTAPS member Kate Chandler has more than 35 years' experience in contentious matters.

Practice head(s):

Michael Batty; Rob Adam

Other key lawyers:

Kate Chandler

Testimonials

‘Rob Adam was very personable, human and completely understood what was required.’

‘This team is notable not only for their strong knowledge and experience in contentious trusts and probate work, but also for their wonderful client service. They’re proactive and give clear advice to clients.’

‘I work with Rob Adam at this firm. He is always professional, calm and has fantastic instinct. A really impressive practitioner.’

Mills & Reeve LLP

The Norwich office of Mills & Reeve LLP has a thriving private client practice that acts for a national client base on matters ranging from challenges to the validity of wills and actions involving trustees and executors to claims under the Inheritance Act 1975. David Catchpole leads a large practice, which includes many ACTAPS members who frequently act for charities in contested legacy matters. Associate Lucy Mitchell and Abaigh Compton also play key roles in the practice.

Practice head(s):

David Catchpole

Other key lawyers:

Lucy Mitchell; Abaigh Compton

Work highlights

  • Advised a client and her sisters in relation to issue concerning their late father’s estate and the possible suppression of his last will by their brother. The case raised interesting issues relating to the Hindu tradition of succession by the male heir.

Tees Law

Tees Law has a contentious trusts and probate team in Cambridge, and senior associate and ACTAPS member Sara Stabler, who leads the practice and is a Higher Court Advocate, calls upon resources from the firm's other offices to handle a growing volume of high-value disputes. Clients are 'impressed by her knowledge' and note that she is 'approachable, sensible and very client-friendly'. She recently advised on a complex £1.8m property trust dispute involving assets that were held as tenants in common and a main property that was subject to a deed of trust.

Practice head(s):

Sara Stabler

Testimonials

‘Sara Stabler – I was impressed by her approach and knowledge. Clearly someone who knows what they are doing in this area. Approachable, sensible and very client-friendly. I would be happy to recommend clients to her and know they were in good hands.’

Work highlights

  • Advising on a contested probate matter dealing with complex issues regarding proprietary estoppel, trust law, inheritance tax and capital gains tax.
  • Advising on a contested probate dispute acting for the executor and sole beneficiary of the estate who was facing a claim by one of the deceased’s adult children from a previous marriage.
  • Advising on a property trust dispute in respect of a beneficial interest in a property.

Ashtons Legal

Ashtons Legal is 'a willing, passionate and client-orientated firm' with a dedicated contentious trusts and probate practice operating out of its Ipswich office. Solicitor Bee Belby supports group head Polly Stephenson, who is 'an excellent, no-nonsense litigator who fights her client's corner hard'. ACTAPS member Stephenson devotes the majority of her practice to contentious trusts and probate work, handling a diverse mix of matters for high-net-worth individuals.

Practice head(s):

Polly Stephenson

Other key lawyers:

Bee Belby

Testimonials

‘Very good client care; excellent balance between focus on clients’ personal and emotional objectives, and the commercial reality of claims.’

‘Polly Stephenson is an excellent, no-nonsense litigator. She fights her clients’ corners hard. Compassionate in dealing with her clients.’

‘A willing, passionate and client-orientated firm.’

‘Polly Stephenson is passionate about clients’ cases.’

‘The private client team has a wide coverage of East Anglia, with the result that it gets a lot of the good quality contentious trusts and probate claims from Suffolk, Norfolk and Essex.’

‘Polly Stephenson is a tour de force, someone who fights for her clients and who you always want on your side. She is very ably supported by Bee Belby.’

‘The team are friendly and responsive as well as practical and client-focused.’

‘I found Polly Stephenson to be very pragmatic. She was able to identify and deal with the main issues of the dispute in order to best serve the client.’

Work highlights

  • Advising a client on her claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family & Dependants) Act 1975 in relation to the multimillion-pound agricultural estate of her late husband and negotiating the terms of settlement.
  • Advising a long-standing cohabitee in relation to an Inheritance Act claim against her deceased partner’s multi-million pound estate when he died intestate.
  • Defending beneficiaries in relation to a claim against their late father’s multimillion-pound estate by his alleged co-habitee.

BDB Pitmans

BDB Pitmans in Cambridge recently hired head of will and trust disputes Lucinda Brown from HCR Hewitsons in early 2020. Leveraging the firm's national reputation in private wealth matters, the firm is now building its reputation for private client disputes in East Anglia. Clients describe Brown as 'highly competent, pragmatic and client-focused'. As head of the private wealth disputes practice, she handles both domestic and cross-border matters for high-net-worth individuals.

Practice head(s):

Lucinda Brown

Testimonials

Our experience is positive and we are thankful that our solicitor guided us through the case to a reasonable conclusion.’

‘I have only dealt with Lucinda Brown. My experience of her has been nothing but positive.’

‘Lucinda Brown is highly competent. She is pragmatic and client-focused. I have no hesitation in recommending clients to her and have every confidence that they will receive a first-class service.’

Buckles Solicitors LLP

Buckles Solicitors LLP in Peterborough 'offers real world advice and has subject matter experts who are friendly and approachable'. Clients note that the practice, which has particular expertise in matters involving Inheritance Act challenges by spouses, partners and children, 'pursues its client's position and remains co-operative and positive in dealing with other parties'. Experienced litigator and ACTAPS member Paul Branch leads the practice with support from 'practical and down to earth' specialist senior associate Alex Burch.

Practice head(s):

Paul Branch

Other key lawyers:

Alex Burch

Testimonials

‘Paul Branch was great and very understanding in our case and took time to understand our family history before advising us on best way to proceed. Gave us great confidence that we were taking the correct way to resolve our case.’

‘Buckles Solicitors has an extensive and diverse range of solicitors and legal professionals who advise and interact to provide comprehensive legal representation.’

‘Alex Burch was always professional and extremely easy to communicate with, I never experienced misunderstanding in communication or lack of clarity in legal approach or terminology. I found Alex to be understanding of my frustrations with the situation, supportive and empathetic, particularly as the case dragged on a lot longer than expected.’

‘A particular strength of the team is the apparent commitment to each case, no doubt giving the client a real sense of confidence that they are working hard for them.’

‘The team is very experienced and well co-ordinated, with excellent oversight provided by team-leader, Paul Branch. The firm is a local and national leader in this specialist area and provide excellent value for money. Their ability to draw on the expertise of related areas, such as corporate and non-contentious private client and tax makes them the all-round package for cases with these cross-over elements.’

‘Paul Branch is a standout partner and adviser in this field. He has great experience both as litigator and mediator and he brings a depth of knowledge and calm strategic thinking to every case. He has excellent support from his able team, including senior associate Alex Burch. Alex has significant experience in high value and complex disputes about estates and has an excellent ability to help clients through very stressful times and to achieve excellent results, both in litigation and in ADR.’

‘Paul Branch is excellent – clever, hardworking and very good with clients. he knew when to be tough with the other side but also to steer the clients towards settlement.’

‘The team offers real world advice and are subject matter experts in their fields. They are friendly and approachable and happy to discuss needs without turning on the clock. referrals between staff is common place to put you with the right adviser.’

Work highlights

  • Acted for a cohabitee in an I(PFD)A claim over an estate worth £7m with five other parties where the client was successful after a 5-day trial.
  • Defending two siblings in a proprietary estoppel claim brought by the third sibling to about 80% of a farmer’s estate worth about £6m.
  • Advising client and her German lawyers on English probate practice in relation to death of 2 generations and defending a S50 AJA 1985 claim.

Butcher Andrews

The Fakenham office of Butcher Andrews is increasingly active in trusts and probate disputes, with litigator David Richards joining from Leathes Prior and solicitor April Lyon moving over from Birketts LLP to work with head of private client Simon Underwood. Richards handles a range of civil, commercial, construction and negligence disputes, and has recently devoted more of his time to contentious probate work.

Practice head(s):

Simon Underwood

Other key lawyers:

David Richards; April Lyon

Testimonials

‘Simon Underwood and his team dealt professionally to high standards at a very sensitive time for my late father’s estate and probate.’

‘Simon Underwood gave me professional help and advice for my late father’s will and probate; it was all done swiftly and professionally.’

‘I have interacted with several members of the team due to the circumstances surrounding my legal situation. The speed in which they have responded and shared information back has been first class. I feel I have been able to express any concerns I have, openly and honestly and they have listened attentively. They share their professional knowledge in a calm reassuring manner but allow you time and space to make your own decisions and choices without feeling unduly pressurised.’

‘All the solicitors behave in a very professional manner but both David Richards and Simon Underwood provide very detailed analysis of the legal parameters relevant to your situation, so you have a clear understanding of the legal choices ahead . They both exude calmness and integrity which is reassuring especially when you are feeling overwhelmed by the legal procedures and responsibilities.’

‘What I particularly like is that they work as a team. Individual skill sets complement each other and work together to provide the client with an excellent service offering.’

‘I have used Butcher Andrews for nearly 20 years in a variety of different matters, both family and business-related. More recently, I have used their probate and wills team to provide guidance in respect of a disputed will under which I act as executor. The probate team has continued to display those essential qualities that I have experienced in my previous dealings with them. Simon Underwood and his colleague April Lyon have provided sound advice in a very timely manner.’

‘The team is capable and knowledgeable. They always act promptly.’

‘Butcher Andrews has been efficient, prompt, friendly and helpful dealing with diverse and complicated matters.’

Clapham & Collinge Solicitors

Clapham & Collinge Solicitors has a practice based in Norwich and North Walsham and also delivers services through its Sheringham office. Head of litigation Philip Lumb, who took over as head of the practice in late 2020, is supported by consultant Michael Olmer on high-value contentious probate matters including claims under the Inheritance Act 1975, acting for a growing client base in North Norfolk.

Practice head(s):

Philip Lumb

Other key lawyers:

Michael Olmer

Fosters

Based in Norwich, and providing advice through its Lowestoft and Wymondham offices, Fosters has a full-service dispute resolution team that provides specialist advice on contentious probate issues, trusts and wills. Head of litigation Chris Fielding has in-depth experience in disputes between executors and trustees, challenges to the validity of wills, Inheritance disputes and contentious Court of Protection matters.

Practice head(s):

Chris Fielding

Testimonials

‘As a probate client, I find this practice helpful and very professional. The billing system they use, enables me to pay and get receipts online. Correspondence is clear and concise. The legal knowledge is second-to-none.’

‘Chris Fielding is the litigation partner that, as I am a “non professional”, is understanding and explains issues that arise in such a way that enables me to understand and gain direction in my own decision making. Mr Fielding calms me down and goes over the broader points, thus allowing me to put my thoughts forward with a clear head.’

‘This was a complex and sensitive case and emotive for me as a client. Chris Fielding was empathic and forensic in his analysis. Chris was also firm in his advice enabling me to eventual see his legal strategy was the best legal direction I could adopt. It was a relief to have Chris guiding me though a very upsetting family dispute with various other parties involved. Chris was sharp, concise and clever in his handling of the other parties and also had an ability to help me navigate a CoP legal process which was invaluable in both the most cost effective and appropriate legal direction to achieve the objective.’

Work highlights

  • Representing a surviving, co-habiting partner in a complex Inheritance Act claim in which the deceased passed away intestate, leaving residential property and commercial interests understood to be valued at approximately £1m.
  • Representing the client in a contested probate claim to set aside a will where it is asserted the testator lacked sufficient capacity, suffered undue influence and where the beneficiaries under the contested will must respond to particularised, specific allegations of fraudulent calumny.
  • Representing the executrix of an estate (a surviving spouse) in successfully defending not one, but two claims from beneficiaries under a revoked will (including a national charity), where both parties alleged the testator lacked capacity, and one (a family member) additionally intimated an Inheritance Act action that was ultimately defeated.

Gotelee Solicitors

Based in Ipswich and Hadleigh, Gotelee Solicitors has a large private client team led by the experienced Peter Crix, who handles a steady stream of contentious trust and probate work. The firm is particularly active in claims under the Inheritance Act 1975, claims against trustees, challenges to wills on the grounds of fraudulent calumny, constructive trust claims and disputed Court of Protection applications. It also has particular expertise in NHS continuing healthcare claims. Highly regarded associate Kay Baker is an accredited mediator.

Practice head(s):

Peter Crix

Other key lawyers:

Kay Baker

Testimonials

‘Kay Baker is both a skilful and diligent succession and trusts lawyer, with an amazing ability to keep several balls in the air at the same time.’

Hatch Brenner LLP

Hatch Brenner LLP in Norwich handles a growing volume of contentious private client matters across Norfolk, particularly those involving contested probate, issues of incapacity, undue influence and claims under the Inheritance Act 1975.  Head of private client Caroline Billings and 'very professional, courteous and responsive' litigator Mark Fitch frequently act for family members, beneficiaries, executors and trustees in complex matters.

Practice head(s):

Mark Fitch

Other key lawyers:

Caroline Billings

Testimonials

‘I have had need to use Hatch Brenner on two separate occasions both of which were concluded favourably, very professional service and quick to respond to enquiries.’

‘Mark Fitch acted on my behalf – very professional, courteous and responsive. I would recommend this firm.’

Steeles Law

Steeles Law in Norwich has built up its private client practice; practice head Damian Pitts focuses predominantly on property litigation but is increasingly involved in matters of contentious probate. In late 2020, the firm hired the 'sensible and empatheticEmerald Priscott from Clapham & Collinge Solicitors to focus on family law and other contentious private client matters. The firm frequently advises clients in Norwich, Diss and the surrounding areas on probate disputes involving significant property assets.

Practice head(s):

Damian Pitts

Other key lawyers:

Emerald Priscott

Testimonials

‘The people who work at Steeles Law are all very professional. They work as a team and this is evident when there is an issue within the area you are seeking advice i.e. if there is an issue not within their realm of expertise, then they will make sure that the person with the expertise is called in on the issue that has arisen.’

‘For me, it is the feeling that not only are they there to advise and help but that they make you feel that they care and do understand the situation. I have dealt with numerous people within Steeles Law who are highly trained in their field but who are professional and with the right amount of empathy.’

‘The person I know at Steeles is Emerald Priscott who struck me as a very capable private client/probate disputes lawyer with a sensible and empathetic head and good technical knowledge.’

Work highlights

  • Acting for a family member in relation to her late mother’s estate, with concerns raised regarding a handwritten Will with doubts as to whether the Will had been properly executed, in accordance with the formalities set out in law.
  • Advising and acting on an Inheritance Act Claim against a high-value estate, the value of the property and new development is likely to be worth in the region of £1m.
  • Instructed to bring professional negligence proceedings against a regional firm of solicitors, on the grounds that her father’s wishes were not correctly reflected in his Will.