Contentious trusts and probate in East Anglia

Birketts LLP

The Norwich office of Birketts LLP is home to a substantial part of the firm's specialist cross-office contentious trusts and probate practice. Bernadette Baker and litigation partner Max Roessler are adept in private wealth disputes, which includes matters concerning trusts, Inheritance Act issues, challenges to the validity of wills, charitable legacy disputes, the rights of adopted and illegitimate children and disputes arising from or relating to powers of attorney and financial abuse of the vulnerable. The firm is also well versed in TOLATA claims. Senior associate Marie McMahon is also recommended.

Practice head(s):

Bernadette Baker; Max Roessler

Other key lawyers:

Marie McMahon

Greene & Greene

Greene & Greene has two full ACTAPS members in its practice, which handles work ranging up to multimillion-pound cases in the High Court. Litigation partners Rob Adam, who is 'approachable and sensible, looking to resolve matters rather than making what are already very difficult and upsetting situations more acrimonious and unsettling', and Michael Batty are the key practitioners. 'Extremely shrewd' consultant Kate Chandler and 'approachable and very client-orientated' associate Ben Fox have extensive experience in breach of trust, estate administration and claims concerning the validity of wills.

Practice head(s):

Rob Adam

Other key lawyers:

Michael Batty; Kate Chandler; Ben Fox

Testimonials

The team is well led and growing strongly.

Rob Adam is approachable and sensible, looking to resolve matters rather than making what are already very difficult and upsetting situations more acrimonious and unsettling. He has empathy and pragmatism, and a wide knowledge on the subject.

Benjamin Fox and Kate Chandler have been the only members of this team involved with my case and have given me excellent service in what has been a very complex area and set of issues. They have ensured that these have been carefully explained to me along with the potential consequences and options available.

Benjamin Fox has clearly demonstrated the following qualities and I have been very impressed with the service which I have received from him to date: empathy, an ability to relate to the particular issues, clear explanations of legal issues, strong attention to detail, awareness of potential costs involved, and ensuring best value for client.

It has been a pleasure dealing with Ben Fox, who is always approachable and very client-orientated.

The team shows that essential mixture of legal expertise and sensitivity to their clients’ wishes and circumstances. Once involved, they associate 100% with the client, and will work with him or her devotedly from first instruction to the celebratory drink at the end.

Kate Chandler is an extremely shrewd customer, with a rich well of experience to draw on. She rightly gains the client’s 100% trust and faith in her devotion to their interests, and commitment to finding the effective legal solution. She keeps her feet firmly on the ground, and – for a lawyer – shows a remarkable insight into what the clients really want and/or fear.

Benjamin Fox is possibly the leading contentious trust and estate solicitor below partner level in East Anglia. He is remarkably unflappable and absolutely determined to see his clients’ interests taken to their utmost. He handles his cases confidently and adeptly, but is well aware of the right time to take advice of someone more senior, or bolt on advice or representation from counsel. He wears his first-class law degree lightly, able to communicate complex legal and factual circumstances clearly to his clients.

Greene & Greene’s contentious trusts and probate practice is particularly impressive given its size. The matters I have been involved [with] are high value and complex, and have been handled by Greene & Greene as any firm of a larger size would have done. The contentious trusts and probate practice can also rely on a wealth of experience within the firm in aligned disciplines, such as private client, agriculture and tax.

Ben Fox is superb, and punches well above his weight. He is a tenacious and tactically astute litigator, always with an eye on the end goal.

Work highlights

  • Advising a beneficiary under a Will Trust under which the beneficiary is entitled to a life interest in a half share of the residue. The beneficiary has not received any payment over a number of years.
  • Acting for a residuary beneficiary in relation to a dispute concerning an Agreement to vary the Canadian Intestacy Rules. The dispute concerns the validity of an Agreement executed in England and whether that Agreement is void on the basis of presumed and/or actual undue influence and/or whether it is effective for the purposes of varying the Canadian Intestacy Rules.
  • Acting for the Executor and Trustee of a Deceased who was the surviving spouse. The Estate has a potential claim against a Trust created on the death of the first spouse on the basis of mistake, which if successful would result in the asset transferred to the Trust resulting back to the Estate in respect of which the firm is advising.

Mills & Reeve LLP

Mills & Reeve LLP in Norwich handles disputes concerning the validity of wills, actions involving trustees and executors, Inheritance Act related claims concerning lifetime transactions. It also acts for numerous charities  in contested legacy matters. The private client department has a large roster of high-net-worth clients nationwide and also acts for trust companies, universities and hospital trusts. Practice head David Catchpole and associate Lucy Mitchell are both ACTAPS members. They have a substantial client base both in East Anglia and across the UK.

Practice head(s):

David Catchpole

Other key lawyers:

Lucy Mitchell

Testimonials

‘Everyone in the team has always acted in a thoroughly professional manner and have always been timely and courteous in their dealings with me. They have always taken great care to fully understand the sensitivity and emotional aspects of my case and have acted accordingly.’

‘David Catchpole has provided a caring and thoroughly professional service for the entirety of the three years he has been dealing with my case. Whilst I have no first-hand experience with competitors, it would be difficult to imagine any law firm or individual lawyers providing a more comprehensive and personal service. Every aspect of my extremely complicated and sensitive case has been handled entirely as I would have wished, and the end results have far exceeded what might reasonably have been expected.’

Work highlights

  • Acted for four sisters in relation to the disputed English Will of their late father. A similar dispute is ongoing in India relating to the Indian Will.
  • Acted for an Oxbridge College in defending a potential claim by relatives of the deceased, who are alleging (a) that the college is under a moral obligation to pass some of its legacy to them, and should apply to the Charity Commission for permission to do so, and (b) that they have a claim in proprietary estoppel.

Ashtons Legal

The Ipswich office of Ashtons Legal has a specialist team that is 'friendly, high-quality and efficient'. 'Knowledgeable, experienced and very able' partner and ACTAPS member Polly Stephenson has a background in commercial and civil litigation but now specialises in contentious probate and trusts, disputed wills and professional negligence. Solicitor Bee Belby also focuses on contentious private client matters. Clients remark on the firm's 'strong fighting spirit, tempered with the wisdom to pursue a pragmatic settlement'.

Practice head(s):

Polly Stephenson

Other key lawyers:

Bee Belby

Testimonials

The team is well led by Polly Stephenson who is knowledgeable, experienced and very able.

Bee Belby is also one to watch for the future.

A friendly, high-quality and efficient team. They are tough fighters.

I have been particularly impressed with Polly Stephenson. She has a strong fighting spirit to forcefully advance her clients’ cases, tempered with the wisdom to pursue a pragmatic settlement in her clients’ best interests.

It has a very strong regional presence and can provide assistance across a wide range of legal needs.

Polly Stephenson is a hardworking and tenacious legal representative who also has a high degree of client sensitivity and good instincts for the merits of a case.

Buckles Solicitors LLP

Clients of Buckles Solicitors LLP in Peterborough report that the firm is 'very well organised, knowledgeable, proactive in its approach and accessible'. Skilled in disputes involving Inheritance Act challenges by spouses, partners and children, the firm also defends claims relating to capacity, deputyship applications, care home fees, top-up fees and claims for retrospective continuing healthcare. 'Caring, careful and considerate' practice head and ACTAPS member Paul Branch is an experienced litigator with 15 years' experience and associate Alex Burch focuses purely on this area of law.

Practice head(s):

Paul Branch

Other key lawyers:

Alex Burch

Testimonials

All of the team are knowledgeable and keen to help. They are obviously professional but also friendly and do not try to be overly technical.

I feel that when I deal with staff at Buckles that they have time for me and interest in my needs. They also do what they promise.

Very well organised and knowledgeable. Proactive in their approach and accessible.

Alex Burch is an excellent solicitor who is very easy and helpful to work with.

The overall sense I get from having worked with two fee-earners in the team is that they are genuinely striving to achieve the best outcome for the client at the best cost to the client. Some firms with whom I have worked front-load the fees when it is clear that a case will settle well in advance of trial but I am confident that this is not something this firm does.

Paul Branch is an individual who will go out of his way to try to find a resolution and I know he does this without billing for all the time he dedicates to it. He is caring, careful and considerate in his approach to the clients and litigation.

Seamless transactions between specialisms with key personnel being brought on board with the exact capabilities and skill sets in an expedient manner.

Motivated, hardworking, down to earth, capable and easily contactable.

The firm has excellent strength and experience in the field of contentious trust and probate and holds its own with the best firms. It regularly deals with high value, complex and multi-party disputes. It has great support from its private client team who can support with detailed tax advice where relevant.

Paul Branch is a fantastic team leader and is always a wise head in a crisis. He is knowledgeable, calm and responsive and his experience as a mediator is invaluable in navigating difficult negotiations. He is not intimidated by aggressive opponents.

Alex Burch is an up-and-coming associate who is very thorough, hardworking and puts clients at their ease. He has good experience of difficult trial situations.

Buckles is an excellent practice and works as a smooth team to give clients a great service. Liaison across teams is good and it gives clients confidence in their work.

I worked with Alex Burch who was unfailingly professional and always kept his word, so giving me confidence at a very difficult time. However I felt he was a kind and compassionate person who understood how my situation impacted on me. I will always appreciate this and would recommend him highly.

Work highlights

  • Acted in a multi-party multimillion-pound I(PFD)A dispute ending with a six-day trial following which our client was awarded a large lump sum and a property and costs personally against the Executors (personal order for costs under appeal).
  • Handled a multi-party high-value (£10m gross estate) I(PFD)A dispute. Three separate I(PFD)A claims brought out of time. Lots of complexity regarding both the make-up of the estate and who inherits what and so whether claims should be conceded, fought or brought.
  • Acting for a client referred by another firm to defend a proprietary estoppel claim brought by her brother in relation to a farming family with an estate worth over £5m.

Gotelee Solicitors

Gotelee Solicitors in Ipswich has an 'excellent contentious private client department with significant ability to deal with complex disputes sensitively and at proportionate cost'. Private client partner Peter Crix, who is a trustee of numerous and substantial trusts including several farms in Suffolk, is well known in the county for high-profile and complex inheritance cases. Associates Kay Baker in the Hadliegh office, who is an accredited mediator, and Simon Tilling in Woodbridge also play key roles in the practice.

Practice head(s):

Peter Crix

Other key lawyers:

Kay Baker

Testimonials

Excellent contentious private client department with significant ability to deal with complex disputes sensitively and at proportionate cost.

An able competitor for central London firms.

Simon Tilling gets to the bottom of complicated cases and really helps clients understand their options.

I work with Kay Baker who is exceptional in her field of contentious probate. She has an in-depth understanding of this complex area coupled with very high standards of client service. Similarly, Kay is always willing to assist fellow professionals with issues they are experiencing and provide her advice.

HCR Hewitsons

'The firm provides excellent, in-depth specialist advice,' says a client of HCR Hewitsons who remarks that lead partner and ACTAPS member Lucinda Brown is 'an excellent lawyer who provides realistic advice and advances her client's case robustly'. The firm long focused on this area of law and has a team dedicated to handling challenges to the validity of wills, breach of trust claims, Inheritance Act claims, rectification of wills and trust documents, contentious Court of Protection matters and the financial abuse of vulnerable adults.

Practice head(s):

Lucinda Brown

Testimonials

The firm provides excellent, in-depth specialist advice.

Lucinda Brown is an excellent lawyer who provides realistic advice and advances her client’s case robustly.

Work highlights

  • Representing a client as life tenant of a trust in his challenge to the exercise of trustees’ proposed appointment of shares in a farm business which are settled in trust (and associated company demerger aspects).
  • Acting for the daughter of a famous London-based literary agent in her claim to challenge the validity of her father’s last Will.
  • Acting for the nephew in a challenge to his late uncle’s Will on the basis of undue influence.

Tees Law

'I have always found this firm to be both very professional and friendly, and they work hard to get the best for their client without being overly litigious and aggressive,' says a client of Tees Law. Head of litigation Sara Stabler, who is 'definitely one to watch for the future', devotes most of her time to contentious trust and probate matters, though she also handles commercial and property litigation. As an ACTAPS member and a Higher Court Advocate, she frequently receives referrals from other law firms, barristers chambers and accountants.

Practice head(s):

Sara Stabler

Testimonials

I have always found this firm to be both very professional and friendly. They work hard to endeavour to get the best for their client without being overly litigious and aggressive. Despite some very difficult situations they calmly provide their clients with the appropriate advice.

Sara Stabler and Katie Hayes make an outstanding team of advisers. They combine their qualities to provide excellent service to clients. One of the best I have come across.

I have worked with Sara Stabler, senior associate at Tees Law, on two matters. One was a complex commercial dispute with a great deal of personal animosity between the parties and the other a challenging trust case. In the trust case, Sara showed a maturity beyond her years, standing up to difficult bullying opponents and, frankly, out-lawyering them. In the other, she conducted the negotiation of a settlement with consummate skill, never overstating her case but arguing with forceful reasoning. In my book, she is definitely one to watch for the future.’

Work highlights

  • Representing the deceased’s family in respect of a challenge to a Will possibly prepared under undue influence and without independent evidence on capacity.

Barker Gotelee

'The team ethos is good and you are reassured that whoever you speak to in the team they are knowledgeable and helpful,' says a client of Barker Gotelee which joins the ranking this year. Associate Katie Emerson, who joined in 2019 from Withers LLP, leads the practice, which handles claims relating to the validity, construction and rectification of wills and trusts; Inheritance Act claims; claims for the removal of executors/trustees; and proprietary estoppel claims. Private client partner James Skellorn also plays a key role in the practice.

Practice head(s):

Katie Emerson

Other key lawyers:

James Skellorn

Testimonials

The team ethos is good and you are reassured that whoever you speak to in the team they are knowledgeable and helpful. In respect to contentious probate they have a particular strength.

James Skellorn exudes confidence.

Work highlights

  • Advising two sons, who are the executors of their father’s estate, regarding the estate administration as well as regarding complex interrelated contentious matters relating to their grandparents’ wills/will trusts of which their father was a beneficiary.

Clapham & Collinge Solicitors

Clapham & Collinge Solicitors is 'client-focused and extremely competent; the firm provides full, comprehensive and sensible advice to every client'. Neale Grearson in Norwich, who is head of the family and charities departments, also leads the contentious trusts and probate practice, which acts for clients across Norfolk. Head of litigation Philip Lumb and property consultant Michael Olmer also provide support to the practice.

Practice head(s):

Neale Grearson

Other key lawyers:

Philip Lumb; Michael Olmer.

Testimonials

Client-focused and extremely competent, the firm provides full, comprehensive and sensible advice given to every client.

The team at Clapham & Collinge is exceptional. I was very impressed with the level of knowledge offered by both partners and associates as well as their flexibility, and prompt communication. My issue was a particularly frustrating contentious probate claim, Clapham & Collinge were very helpful, effective, and reassuring.

Work highlights

  • Acting for beneficiaries in an estate where there is a dispute as to the validity of the Will. Concerns regarding undue influence and financial abuse during the deceased’s lifetime.
  • Acting for a sole beneficiary and executor in defending a potential Inheritance Act claim by the deceased’s son.
  • Acting for two beneficiaries in a £400,000 estate subject to a claim under the Inheritance Act by an alleged cohabitee.

Fosters

Fosters has a strong local reputation around Norwich, though it also provides services through its Lowestoft and Wymondham offices. The firm handles disputes arising from, inter alia, the administration of estates, conflicts between executors, challenges to the validity of wills, Inheritance Act claims and negligent advice on the drafting of wills. Contentious trust and probate matters constitute a significant proportion of the workload of head of litigation Chris Fielding.

Practice head(s):

Chris Fielding

Testimonials

‘Fosters are a very professional team – I cannot fault them in any way.’

‘Communication within the team at Fosters is excellent – they keep things in perspective and act for clients in a very positive way. This firm has persistence that gets results.’

‘Chris Fielding listens and focuses on the facts assertively. He presents a case and selects evidence that underpins the truth and communicates in an understandable and straightforward way. He instils confidence for his clients and communicates progress every step of the way.’

Work highlights

  • Advising on a complex claim involving litigation in respect of an estate valued in excess of £1.5m. A dispute emerged between executors, and later between various beneficiaries and a surviving executor. The case was successfully mediated.
  • Advising on a complex claim arising from a dispute between beneficiaries of an estate involving businesses, commercial and residential property and valuable chattels. The client has a formidable Inheritance Act claim and responds to an Inheritance Act claim from an ex-wife in respect of the deceased’s pension provisions.
  • Advising a claimant on an Inheritance Act claim against a high-value estate comprising various properties (a mixture of commercial and residential) in circumstances in which the deceased died unexpectedly and tragically, having failed to make any provision for the client as a cohabitee.

Hatch Brenner LLP

Hatch Brenner LLP joins the ranking this year. It acts for family members, beneficiaries, executors and trustees in will disputes arising from lack of capacity to make a will including due to dementia or other illness, claims for financial maintenance and other issues. The 'knowledgeable, approachable professional' Mark Fitch, who has 25 years' experience in litigation, has a strong track in complex matters including claims for undue influence and fraudulent calumny.

Practice head(s):

Mark Fitch

Testimonials

This was the first time I have needed to engage the services of a solicitor. I approached Mark Fitch as he was recommended to me by a family member. I found him to be a knowledgeable and approachable professional. On occasions when I attended the office he was helpful and assisted with the contentious issue in a professional manner.

Mark Fitch was friendly and made me feel at ease in his company.

Work highlights

  • Acted for the main residuary beneficiary of the deceased’s Will, made before his son was born, in an action brought by the son under the 1975 Inheritance Act.

Kerseys Solicitors LLP

The dispute resolution group at Kerseys Solicitors LLP in Ipswich joins the ranking this year. It handles a growing flow of of contentious trust and probate matters, including challenges to the validity of wills and disputes concerning powers of attorney, trusts and trustees, Inheritance Act claims and property-related matters. 'Her advice was extremely helpful and provided me with some security as I navigated the difficult circumstances,' says a client of partner Kate Barnes, who is 'very efficient and knowledgeable'.

Practice head(s):

Kate Barnes

Testimonials

The vast majority of my dealings were with Kate Barnes, though I was referred to her swiftly by another partner and any other dealings I had with the team were highly professional. Communications were timely and clear, I was never passed from pillar to post and I got the impression people were across the details.

Kate Barnes immediately began to enable me to step back from the emotions enough to give sensible instructions and find a way forward. Her advice as to the path to take and how things would likely develop proved to be extremely helpful and provided me with some security as I navigated the difficult circumstances. This came from her knowledge, a business-like approach and communication skills for which I am very grateful.

In my experience with Kerseys, they centre on their clients’ needs. I consulted Kerseys as they were so very helpful when my late father-in-law made his will, and they catered for his particular needs. When he passed away Kerseys were available to help out out with probate and any other help my wife needed. They are, in my opinion an exceptional family-run firm, and have been supportive to me in my present situation with a difficult probate matter.

Kate Barnes has been very helpful in my present difficult probate problems. Without her full understanding we would not have reached a final conclusion, what I admired most about Kate is that she was concerned with the cost to me, and subsequently advised me on how to keep the costs down.

I was dealt with quickly and efficiently each time I contacted Kerseys. Kate Barnes was very efficient and knowledgeable in all that I asked her to do.

Work highlights

  • Defeated three separate challenges to the validity of a will on behalf of executors.
  • Resolving claims concerning the administration of an estate and the administration and distribution of a trust.
  • Resolved claims of ‘mutual wills’ made against executors appointed in subsequent will.