Contentious trusts and probate in East Anglia

Birketts LLP

Birketts LLP has a dedicated contentious trusts and probate team that frequently handles disputes concerning trusts, actions under the Inheritance Act 1975, challenges to the validity of wills, charitable legacy disputes, the rights of adopted and illegitimate children, and disputes concerning powers of attorney and financial abuse of the vulnerable. ‘Tenacious and clever‘ partner Bernadette Baker in Norwich leads the practice and she ‘fights very hard for her clients but recognises the need to resolve differences and reach a negotiated settlement‘. Clients are ‘hugely impressed by her robust and common-sense approach to difficult litigation‘ of senior associate Kate Harris in Cambridge. Senior associate Marie McMahon in Norwich is ‘‘very supportive and explains things very well is great at saying what needs to be added to correspondence and what isn’t going to be helpful‘.

Practice head(s):

Bernadette Baker

Other key lawyers:

Kate Harris; Marie McMahon

Testimonials

‘It’s a very solid regional firm, with a strong pedigree in contentious trusts and estates and an excellent team led by Bernadette Baker and with first-rate support from stand-out individuals, such as Kate Harris. One of the firm’s strengths is that it is able to draw on expertise in other fields of law where cases require cross-over input, from private client or from corporate angles. This allows a composite approach to the litigation and resolution of cases.’

‘I have worked with Kate Harris in particular and been hugely impressed by her robust and common-sense approach to difficult litigation. She is utterly reliable and will forge ahead to find a resolution.’

‘It is a considerable team which is growing steadily. They have breadth and depth, as well as knowledge and capacity.’

‘Bernadette Baker is tenacious and clever. She will fight very hard for her clients but recognises the need to resolve differences and reach a negotiated settlement. She is a skilful practitioner and she ably leads her team. I have no hesitation in recommending her.’

‘Birketts has so far provided a greater level of expertise, communication and holistic advice than has been my experience from other legal firms. I would say that their strengths are taking the time to understand and consider all the relevant facts/details, and provide advice appropriate to the context. This contrasts greatly to my experience of other legal firms who often fail to grasp the complexities and often lack the necessary knowledge and expertise to provide relevant probate advice.’

‘I feel that we have a relationship based on mutual trust which is vital when choosing legal representation. My previous experience of law firms in this field left me doubting the advice they were giving, and this was often borne out by the consequences of their actions. It’s important that your legal representatives trust the information and decisions you provide, and that you can in turn trust them to provide accurate and informed advice based on that. Bernadette Baker and her team have been excellent at listening, understanding and trusting the information we’ve provided, and in acting accordingly.’

‘Good team with strength in depth, and good links to litigation department for more contentious work. Needed to be prodded a little to find an alternative dispute resolution rather than confrontational litigation.’

‘Marie McMahon is very supportive and explains things very well is great at saying what needs to be added to correspondence and what isn’t going to be helpful. Her team are very good at being abreast of all the tangled twists and turns in our case. All are supportive and kind.’

Greene & Greene

Greene & Greene in Bury St Edmunds is ‘like a breath of fresh air in the world of law firms and they handle clients with sensitivity and professionalism‘. The firm handles all aspects of contested wills, including challenges to their validity on the grounds of lack of testamentary capacity,  and claims under the Inheritance Act involving multimillion-pound assets. In cases concerning complex and high-value trusts, it acts for trustees and beneficiaries. Litigation partners Michael Batty and Rob Adam (who is ‘highly intelligent, sharp but very personable‘) are then key practitioners. Adam holds a STEP Advanced Certificate in trust disputes. Consultant Kate Chandler also plays a key role in the practice.

Practice head(s):

Michael Batty; Rob Adam

Other key lawyers:

Martine Swaep; Kate Chandler

Testimonials

‘Very impressed with the level of professionalism in all departments I have had contact with.’

‘Rob Adam has been outstanding in his approach to the many issues that were involved in connection with a contentious probate. Martine Swaep is approachable, professional and has excelled in all matters connected to the probate of the estate of my late husband.’

‘Greene & Greene are like a breath of fresh air in the world of law firms and I have dealt with several over the years. From first contact all staff are on the button and extremely personable. They handle clients with sensitivity and professionalism. All aspects are thoroughly explained prior to initial consultation. The entire practice work as one and each department support each other and draw from each others strengths. Greene & Greene give you confidence in their capabilities and make you feel that you are in safe hands, which has borne out in my complicated case.’

‘Rob Adam is highly intelligent, sharp but very personable. My case developed at an alarming rate and took unexpected twists and turns almost immediately. Rob handled the change in direction brilliantly, was able to reassess the case and advise accordingly. Rob remained cool, calm and collected, was able to again reassess, advise but also take into consideration his client’s wishes, find a way forward and call on his team and partners to assist. Rob Adam has restored my faith in the justice system and his integrity is admirable.’

‘Rob Adam is a highly pragmatic, experienced and sensible litigator, who is not afraid to get his hands dirty.’

‘Greene & Greene are a strong team of talented solicitors. The customer service provided to clients is excellent.’

‘Rob Adam is a pleasure to work with. He is very clever, sensible and gives pragmatic advice. He has a lovely way with clients and works hard to ensure that they receive the best outcome possible.’

Mills & Reeve LLP

Mills & Reeve LLP has ‘a busy contentious trusts and probate practice, and often has some of the largest cases outside of London‘. One client remarks that the firm us ‘able to compete with the best-known London firms in quality of lawyers, commercial awareness and tactical nous‘. The firm frequently advises high-net-worth individuals on the validity of wills, actions involving trustees and executors, claims under the Inheritance Act 1975 and related claims concerning lifetime transactions.  It also acts for numerous charities involved in contested legacy matters. David Catchpole in Norwich (who ‘fights tenaciously for his clients always with a keen eye and their greater interests‘) leads the practice. Also in Norwich, senior associate Lucy Brand and associate Abaigh Compton play pivotal roles in key matters. The majority of the team are members of ACTAPS.

Practice head(s):

David Catchpole

Other key lawyers:

Lucy Brand; Abaigh Compton

Testimonials

‘My family have used this firm for anything of significant importance for three generations. The depth of knowledge and professionalism delivered in an understanding and compassionate manner cannot be overstated. Abaigh Compton became the epitome of this ethic.’

‘Abaigh Compton not only provided an extremely competent and robust defence aided by the expert advice from David Catchpole and the team, she was also the “listening ear” I so very much needed at that time. I cannot overstate the level of compassion shown towards myself.’

‘They have stayed with me for nearly five years on a contentious and complex matter, giving me enormous support. Their work is accurate and precise. They have been very consistent’

‘Mills & Reeve are well known as having a busy contentious trusts and probate practice, and often have some of the largest cases outside of London.’

‘Able to compete with the best-known London firms in quality of lawyers, commercial awareness, and tactical nous but without the fee rates to match. They are a very close-knit team who go above and beyond in servicing their clients, with whom they have a great rapport.’

‘David Catchpole is vastly experienced and has excellent judgement. He is incredibly personable but by the oppsoite of a pushover: he fights tenaciously for his clients always with a keen eye and their greater interests.’

‘David Catchpole – knowledgeable without being arrogant and very calm.’

Key clients

Rohita Rajapakse and others

Oxbridge College

Tees Law

Tees Law has 'a very knowledgeable and experienced team' and clients remark that the lawyers 'build rapport extremely well due to their personable approach and high level of knowledge'. The practice is led from Bishop's Stortford, but senior associate Sara Stabler in Cambridge devotes the majority of her litigation practice to contentious will, probate and trusts matters. 'I was impressed by her knowledge of the area, her thinking on the matter and her well written correspondence', remarks one client. Her work includes highly complex matters, including 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.

Practice head(s):

Sara Stabler

Testimonials

‘This is a very knowledgeable and experienced team. They feed off each others’ skills and thinking to provide their clients with an excellent level of service.’

‘Some very well trained and competent individuals work here. I have seen them work with a variety of clients and they build rapport extremely well due to their personable approach and high level of knowledge.’

‘I have only worked against one of their lawyers and I don’t think the team is that large but Sara Stabler impressed me as someone who understood this area.’

‘Sara Stabler was involved in a matter with me where I was impressed by her knowledge of the area, her thinking on the matter and her well written correspondence. I took the view I would be happy to recommend clients to her in the area of contentious probate and know they would be well looked after if my firm had a conflict of interest.’

‘They have good experience in probate and trusts work. I have done several cases in this area with Tees.’

‘Sara Stabler is also very able.’

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, which acquired Steeles Law in 2021, has a seven-lawyer practice that is 'extremely good at managing clients' expectations and goes the extra mile for their clients'. Partner and ACTAPS member Polly Stephenson in Ipswich is the lead partner for contested wills and inheritance disputes, and clients remarks that she is 'very calm under pressure'. Her work spans contentious trusts, Inheritance Act claims, will and probate disputes, will validity issues, contentious Court of Protection and power of attorney disputes. Also in Ipswich, litigator senior associate Joanna Baker assists with key matters. Senior associate Annabel Mayer in Bury St Edmunds advises on contentious matters involving property.

Practice head(s):

Polly Stephenson

Other key lawyers:

Joanna Baker; Nicki Frearson

Testimonials

‘They are extremely good at managing client’s expectations and going the extra mile for their clients. They are a powerhouse firm in the East Anglian region and known to be a safe pair of hands with sound advice throughout a matter. You know their quality when you come across them.

‘Particular praise should be given to Joanna Baker, whose warmth and empathy puts clients at ease, whilst her diligence and legal knowledge make her a formidable presence – you want her on your side.’

‘Joanna Baker’s warmth and empathy puts clients at ease, whilst her diligence and legal knowledge make her a formidable presence – you want her on your side. She is robust on behalf of her clients and provides first-class advice and service to her clients. Joanna’s exceptional client service, great value for money, commercial pragmatism and legal prowess all deserve special mention and mark her out from the rest of the field.’

‘The team were very responsive and efficient. The organisation of the litigation was also notable and Court deadlines were met’

‘Joanna Baker was very efficient and responsive. She produced very clear spreadsheets to keep matters in order throughout a difficult contentious probate case with multiple assets and owners.’

‘Ashtons is a well-established practice in a central location. Within the firm at their heart they are a cohesive team, running with a fluidity and professionalism that is clearly paramount in all their communications and the care they demonstrate to and with their clients. Even throughout these difficult times they have innovated with their communication, so all clients are kept up to date at all times and with the use of technology have provided one to one meetings remotely ensuring safety and compassion in every element of their day to day practice.’

‘I have had contact with a few members of the team all of whom have gone above and beyond what would clearly be their contractual role. I interviewed several firms before appointing Ashtons and no other firm came close to their passion and commitment. Personally I have felt valued, heard and supported with empathy and genuine understanding throughout what is a highly emotive process. I make personal mention for Polly Stephenson and Nicki Frearson.’

‘I have had the most contact with Polly Stephenson, her unwavering support has guided me through a complex process which I would of been completely lost without her. She has been quite simply outstanding. She has instilled trust with honesty; her care, compassion and empathy shine through; this teamed with her unpreceded analytical strategic mind has made me feel I am in safe hands every step of the way.’

Work highlights

  • Advising and negotiating terms of settlement claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family & Dependants) Act 1975 in relation to the £4 million farming estate of her late husband.
  • Advising trustees of a discretionary trust created by a Will in their defence of a claim brought under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 by a former unmarried wife.
  • Advising principal beneficiary in respect of a claim brought by a disappointed beneficiary in respect of the validity of their late mother’s Will. Advising upon the defence to allegations of a lack of knowledge and approval and capacity.

BDB Pitmans

Knowledgeable, experienced, proactive, empathetic, dependable and helpful are just some of the adjectives that spring readily to mind‘, remarks a client of BDB Pitmans in Cambridge. The firm acts for numerous charities and not-for-profit organisations, owner-managed businesses and clients in the agricultural sector. Practice head Lucinda Brown is ‘particularly hardworking and masters detail‘. The arrival of associate Cheryl Gayer from Weightmans in late 2021 added significant experience in disputes involving trustees, beneficiaries, executors, attorneys and charities. Her works spans mental capacity matters, breach of trust claims and proprietary estoppel claims.

Practice head(s):

Lucinda Brown

Other key lawyers:

Cheryl Gayer

Testimonials

‘The whole team that we encountered at BDB Pitmans pulled together, under Lucinda Brown’s expert leadership to ensure that we were always kept fully up to date with the developing and evolving landscape. They took the time to listen and emphasise with our concerns, discussed our options & carefully guided us in the decision making process. Something we really appreciated.’

‘Knowledgeable, experienced, proactive, empathetic, dependable and helpful are just some of the adjectives that spring readily to mind when thinking about Lucinda Brown and her talented team.’

‘Lucinda Brown has a real gift for understanding the technical challenges and seeing the best method of resolution.’

‘Lucinda Brown at BDB Pitmans is a strong player in this area. She has exellent judgment and knowledge of the law.’

‘Establishing itself in the market and likely to soon become one of the recognised players for large and international work.’

‘Lucinda Brown – A very capable solicitor with the interests of her client always at the forefront. We conducted a mediation together and she was clear on the goals and how to achieve them and we got there in the end.’

‘Very strong contentious probate team.’

‘Lucinda Brown is particularly hardworking and masters detail.’

Buckles Solicitors LLP

Buckles Solicitors LLP in Peterborough is ‘an excellent regional firm with great strength and depth in contentious private client disputes‘. The firm is busy across the whole spectrum of work, including cases with issues of capacity and undue influence, contentious deputyship, care home fees, and cross-border inheritance. ‘His depth of knowledge and calm wisdom is an asset‘, remarks a client of lead partner Paul Branch , who works closely with senior associate and ACTAPS member Alex Burch. Burch is ‘utterly dependable, works hard for his client and always seems unfazed by the twists and turns which litigation can take‘.

Practice head(s):

Paul Branch

Other key lawyers:

Alex Burch

Testimonials

‘Buckles is a an excellent regional firm. It has great strength and depth in contentious private client disputes, and has the the huge advantage of being complemented by equally strong private client teams and corporate teams for those cases which require cross-over input. The team is led by the inimitable Paul Branch, whose depth of knowledge and calm wisdom is an asset which he is always happy to share with his team.’

‘Paul Branch is a standout partner. He has a wealth of knowledge in this area and he brings calm wisdom and reassurance to every dispute. His experience as a mediator gives him a valuable insight into how and when a dispute is ripe for compromise. He has a strong team supporting him. I have worked with Alex Burch in particular, who is utterly dependable, works hard for his client and always seems unfazed by the twists and turns which litigation can take.’

‘They are serious players in the contentious trusts and probate world in a filed where provincial solicitors often don’t get the work, they handle multi million pound proprietary estoppel claims. they also stand out in having specialist solicitors who have in depth knowledge of European law.’

‘Paul Branch is excellent-he knows his stuff, he is realistic about the merits of hic clients’ cases and a good litigation tactician.’

‘This is a very strong regional team which knows the area of law very well’

‘I have worked with Alex Burch who I would describe as efficient, knowledgeable in the area of law, and very capable.’

‘Alex Burch is an extremely capable solicitor dealing with all private client disputes. We have been involved in a number of cases together, acting against each other’s clients and acting in concert on behalf of individual clients, and he is a pleasure to work with; always helpful and constructive while seeking to further his client’s position.’

‘Alex Burch is an excellent probate specialist. He has a good bedside manner which was invaluable in assisting a client to settle a difficult claim at mediation. He also has a good eye for drafting watertight settlement agreements.’

Work highlights

  • Worked on a complex high value estate with multiple parties where the client’s claim was rejected by the defendants advised by a KC where the firm was confident in its knowledge as a result of its specialisation and so succeeded at trial.

Clapham & Collinge Solicitors

Clapham & Collinge Solicitors frequently handles claims under the Inheritance Act. Litigation partner Philip Lumb in North Walsham has experience in high-value and complex claims, including contentious trust and probate matters. He recently advised a client in respect of a large family trust concerning land worth around £3m following a dispute between beneficiaries and other family members. Consultant Michael Olmer in Norwich also plays a key role in the practice.

Practice head(s):

Philip Lumb

Other key lawyers:

Michael Older

Work highlights

  • Advised in respect of a large family trust concerning land worth around £3m following a dispute between beneficiaries and other family members.
  • Advising the estate in connection with a claim by the deceased’s son, who alleges lack of capacity, undue influence and lack of knowledge and approval of the terms of the final will.
  • Advising client concerning a share of both parents’ estates, which are worth in the region of £2m, following a dispute with siblings.

Ellisons Solicitors incorporating Gross & Co

The Bury St Edmunds office of Ellisons Solicitors has a dedicated contentious trust and probate practice following the arrival of senior associate Ben Fox from Greene & Greene in early 2021. The team is ‘experienced and of a good size’ and is praised forworking to a high standard at a competitive cost‘. Key areas of work include actions for the removal of personal representatives, claims under the Inheritance Act, trust disputes and beneficial interest claims.

Practice head(s):

Ben Fox

Testimonials

‘Clear communication and frequent conversations.’

‘Ben Fox is very professional in dealing with our very sensitive case of a contentious will, he told us what to expect and how long these cases take etc, and my brother and I felt we could leave it in his hands.’

‘The team at Ellisons is experienced and of a good size, and I think in all respects it compares well with other regional firms doing this kind of work. They work to a high standard at a competitive cost.’

Fosters

Fosters in Norwich advises across the Eastern region and further afield. The firm has noticed a sharp increase in the number of clients from beyond traditional East of England perimeters seeking specialist advice in relation to contentious trust and probate matters. Lead partner Chris Fielding is an associate member of ACTAPS. He is 'always very quick to respond with a recommendation or advice, and always gives the best options to resolve an issue'. He acted for a residuary beneficiary under a deceased parent’s will in which a sibling had failed to administer the principal asset of the family home.

Practice head(s):

Chris Fielding

Testimonials

‘The team operate in a professional but friendly way, always responding within 24 hours –  if they do not have an answer they will let you know and then consult other members of the team to get an answer. Billing was full itemised and issued every month, so no massive bills at the end.’

‘Chris Fielding, always very quick to respond with a recommendation or advice, always gave best options to resolve an issue. As for value for money, very simple – excellent!!’

Work highlights

  • Application to remove executor and/or directions over a PRs failure to administer estate, with a potential devastavit, and an ancillary TOLATA claim over land adjacent to Estate property.
  • Advising on case in which siblings are in dispute over company shares both passing under a will and settled inter vivos by the deceased in family trusts – the client has potential claims in terms of removing a PR, in relation to the winding up of family trusts, and on the basis of devaluation in the company that amounts to a devastavit.
  • Acting for a surviving spouse in dispute with the deceased’s siblings, her stepchildren, over the sizeable estate that does not make sufficient provision for her under the 1975 Act.

Gotelee Solicitors

The contentious probate practice at Gotelee Solicitors is based in Ipswich, but also services clients through the offices in Woodbridge, Felixstowe, Framlingham and Hadleigh. The firm frequently handles claims under the Inheritance Act, claims against trustees, contested wills, constructive trust claims and disputed Court of Protection applications. Lead partner Peter Crix, who is a trustee of numerous and substantial trusts including several farms in Suffolk, acts for both claimants and defendants. Senior associate Kay Baker moved to Birkett Long LLP.

Practice head(s):

Peter Crix

Hatch Brenner LLP

Hatch Brenner LLP in Norwich is ‘able to strike a good balance between professionalism and showing sympathy and empathy with what was a difficult and, at times, emotional situation‘. The firm is experienced in all areas of contested probate, including issues of incapacity, undue influence and claims under the Inheritance Act. It brings together in-depth expertise in probate, litigation and mediation. Lead partner Mark Fitch ‘offers clear advice, and a realistic assessment of the likely outcome at each stage‘. Head of private client Caroline Billings also plays a key role in the practice.

Practice head(s):

Mark Fitch

Other key lawyers:

Caroline Billings

Testimonials

‘This was the first time I had ever had to use the services of a solicitor and even though it was a sensitive family matter, the firm handled it very professionally and reassured me every step of the way. The team kept in contact with me and updated me all the time and addressed any concerns I had.’

‘Mark Fitch kept in contact with me and updated me all the time and addressed any concerns I had. Brilliant communication and very easy to talk to.’

‘Mark Fitch and his assistant were extremely professional, approachable and quick to return calls and emails. They were able to strike a good balance between this professionalism, and showing sympathy and empathy with what was a difficult and, at times, emotional situation. I am very happy with not only the service, but also the support I received.’

‘Mark Fitch was exceptional. His knowledge, experience and ability to look at all the surrounding circumstances, coupled with a collaborative approach with our barrister, led to us achieving the result I had been hoping for at the outset. From our first meeting, he was sensitive to what was a difficult and emotive situation, but also able to keep me calm and focussed when needed. He offered clear advice, and a realistic assessment of the likely outcome at each stage.’

‘Very good communication. Polite and helpful.’

‘Mark Fitch – very kind, helpful and professional. Took on all my emotional and very hard to talk about history and was respectful and a strong legal counsel.’

‘The team were very accessible, and punctual/pacey to deadlines and being able to press forward with our case. However, they were still flexible and accommodating, taking time to tailor the approach and their explanations surrounding the technicalities. They were also flexible with using technology, to ensure no delays due to not being able to be in person at all times. They also had a good reach for technical experts who could be deployed promptly.’

‘We worked with Mark Fitch, who was prompt and accommodating. He made the time as and when it was needed, flexing around our needs as a family, and supporting in navigating significant complexity and change.’

Howes Percival LLP

Howes Percival LLP has seen significant growth in the number of contentious trust and probate instructions over the past two years, particularly in multimillion-pound disputes arising from the administration of estates and trusts. The practice is led from Milton Keynes, but ‘thorough, authoritative and personable‘ Cambridge-based litigation partner Michael Green is a full member of ACTAPS and is closely involved in key matters. He ‘understands the imperatives of settling a dispute and how to assist the parties with that process, even when in a non-contentious or neutral position‘.

Practice head(s):

Jennifer Laskey

Other key lawyers:

Michael Green

Testimonials

‘Most of my dealings have been with the excellent, thorough, authoritative and personable Michael Green. He has imposed order and objective, commercial sense on what was a very messy family dispute. He is ably supported by his team – we have appreciated the way in which the team has collaborated to carry out work at the appropriate rate, while retaining Michael’s oversight.’

‘Michael Green has been very astute on the commercial assets in the estate but was equally fast to understand the family dynamics and sore points. Although he must and has remained neutral as an administrator, he has avoided bowing out and has always provided sensible guidance to the parties to the dispute.’

‘Michael Green’s experience as a litigator and a District Judge means that he is very well placed to act as an independent administrator – he understands the imperatives of settling a dispute and how to assist the parties with that process even when in a non-contentious or neutral position.’

Key clients

Bradley Green

Work highlights

  • Represented a JP Morgan banker in a £2/£3m Estate dispute involving an allegation of undue influence in relation to the changing of a Will.
  • Represented multiple parties in an application to vary the terms of a Settlement with an application also being made for an anonymity order.