Contentious trusts and probate in North

Womble Bond Dickinson (UK) LLP

Womble Bond Dickinson (UK) LLP‘s dedicated and experienced disputes offering operates seamlessly as part of the firm’s national private wealth team, and is able to leverage its geographical reach to act for individuals, trustees and charities, both from across the UK and internationally. The department was recently strengthened by the promotion of standout practitioner Richard Pike to partner; one client describes him as ‘nothing but brilliant, on every level and in every way, at all times‘. ‘Very well respected‘ practice head Neil Long is also noted for his ‘wealth of experience‘.

Practice head(s):

Neil Long

Other key lawyers:

Richard Pike


‘A strong contentious trusts and probate practice that can draw on the firm’s other practice areas where necessary.’

‘I have been pleased with the level of service received throughout. The solicitor I have been dealing with, Richard Pike, has been nothing but brilliant, on every level and in every way, at all times. He has consistently been a great support throughout a very difficult and highly emotional time.’

‘Richard Pike is unflagging, sensibly cutting through difficult situations. Very easy to work with.’

‘In my experience, they are a no-fuss, no-drama, just results team. Very easy to work with. I know this may not sound like much, but some firms (particularly in litigation) can seem to add to the drama (death by 10,000 letters etc.) WBD are not doormats: they are firm but calm.’

‘Richard Pike is very focused on delivering for his clients.’

‘The team has a background of a strong private client offering and when we are involved with that team, the cases are good and generally of a high level which reflects the strength of the practice.’

‘Richard Pike is excellent. He has sound judgment, is very efficient and very pleasant to work with. Neil Long is a very well respected practitioner with a wealth of experience in all areas of contentious trusts and probate. He is excellent with clients.’

‘The biggest and best thing about dealing with Richard Pike has undoubtedly been the fact he instils confidence. He shows compassion, empathy and a high level of professionalism. He’s personable and most importantly I trust him. I feel reassured he’s got my back!’


Key clients

Womble Bond Dickinson (Trust Corporation) Limited as Trustee of the G W Procter 1975 Settlement

Work highlights

  • Appointed as a neutral independent trustee of a number of family trusts.


Dealing with high value contentious agricultural estates is a particular specialism of the group at Burnetts, which functions as a dedicated sub-team of the dispute resolution department. Practice head James Johnston is regularly instructed by agribusiness clients, and his expertise extends to a wide range of litigious matters, including proprietary estoppel cases. Recommended associate Johnny Coulthard's wide-ranging experience encompasses acting on Inheritance Act claims, advising executors on contentious administrations, representing parties challenging wills, and making applications to court to remove difficult executors.

Practice head(s):

James Johnston

Other key lawyers:

Johnny Coulthard


‘Burnetts’ contentious trusts and probate team is a successful niche within the firm’s broader offering.’

‘I have dealt largely with Johnny Coulthard who is able to distil a problem into its component parts to be addressed which has been extremely helpful to me as my case has been particularly emotional and distressing at times. He is actually a remarkable young man – focused, empathetic, hard-working. Has a knack in getting to know his client and engages the client in the process by allowing them to comment on his drafts, his work and be part of the planning process.’

‘James Johnston is experienced beyond his years; has well respected judgment in litigation matters; garners the respect and trust of his clients.’


Hay & Kilner

The offering at Hay & Kilner is known for dealing with highly complex disputes, particularly those with a nexus to agricultural issues. ACTAPS-qualified specialist Lucy Gray leads the team, which also fields experienced practitioner Rodney Jones and recently promoted associate Sara Malik. Key areas of recent growth for the firm include heightened work levels from the Scottish borders and the continuation of increased claims under the Inheritance Act; the group also maintains its proven track record handling proprietary estoppel and validity disputes.

Practice head(s):

Lucy Gray

Other key lawyers:

Rodney Jones; Sara Malik


‘Lucy Gray has a very thorough approach to problems in the context of what is usually complex and multi-party litigation (e.g. involving numerous beneficiaries of a trust or will), which manifests itself in the quality of her instructions to counsel and preparation for hearings, as well as communications with opponents and clients; she is also very easy to communicate with but quite capable of not giving an inch when that is the approach required.’

Sintons LLP

Clients commend the team at Sintons LLP for its ability to 'cover every field with the best people for the job in hand'; this is achieved through close co-operation with the firm’s dispute resolution, wills and probate, corporate, Court of Protection and agricultural departments. Key areas of work for the group include will administration and trust disputes, proprietary estoppel claims and Court of Protection cases. It is also comfortable handling more unusual cases such as domicile disputes and will rectification applications. The team is led by 'star' senior associate Emma Saunders, who works with seasoned practitioner Angus Ashman and 'conscientious, diligent and dedicated solicitor' Emelie Vardon.

Practice head(s):

Emma Saunders

Other key lawyers:

Angus Ashman; Emelie Vardon


‘They give you the confidence to know that they will deliver what is required. They cover every field with the best people for the job in hand.’

‘Emma Saunders is a star and produces partner level work. Good knowledge and reputation in the field and excellent judgment.’

‘Emma Saunders did a wonderful job during what was a very distressing time for me and my family. She was totally professional, transparent and extremely helpful throughout. I was particularly impressed with her enthusiasm, honesty and compassion towards our case. Our case was speedily resolved with upmost professionalism allowing it to be extremely cost effective. Emma Saunders is not only a top solicitor but such a lovely person.’

‘They acted in an extremely professional manner without losing the personal elements in being understanding, helpful and caring. The company should be very proud of what they have achieved. Without a moment of doubt or hesitation I would recommend Sintons.’

‘Emma Saunders is one of those lawyers who will “sweat blood” for her clients: absolutely committed to plumbing the depths to ensure that the clients’ needs and aspirations are met and that every possible angle has been covered; very technical, excellent knowledge of trusts law, very pleasant to deal with and able to use this to good effect in building a rapport with opponents where appropriate, but equally knows where to draw a line and dig her heels in. Emma has been ably assisted by Emelie Vardon, who is showing great promise, especially with client handling skills.’

‘The team were extremely empathetic, knowledgeable and professional in every step of the process. All options were clearly explained including pros and cons and cost implications. I never felt pressurised in making decisions. The case was handled during lockdown but I never felt restrictions hampered me in getting the right level of advice, support or guidance. I never felt the process was clunky and all lawyers who dealt with my case were fully appraised of dealings and I never felt was repeating myself.’

‘Most of my dealings are handled by Emelie Vardon. I found her to be a conscientious, diligent and dedicated solicitor. She’s very decisive, clear, her advice is appropriate and prompt. Emelie Vardon is assisted by the watchful eye of Emma Saunders, who is an experienced, knowledgeable, firm and decisive individual. Emma Saunders and Emelie Vardon are pleasure to work with, and make a wonderful team that yields results. I have no problems recommending Sintons, Emma Saunders and Emelie Vardon to anyone requiring their services.’

‘Emma Saunders has been guiding me through contentious wills and a dispute re power of attorney issues. I have found her excellent. She is warm and friendly as well as competent and reliable. I think her capacity for empathy makes her very suitable in this role.’

Work highlights

  • Acted for beneficiaries on their defence of a claim for a constructive trust over property in the estate, and on an additional claim under the Inheritance Act 1975 brought by the cohabiting partner of the deceased.
  • Representing a beneficiary of an agricultural estate in a dispute concerning the construction of a clause in a will, the boundary of land in the estate and the liabilities of an associated will trust.
  • Acting for the beneficiaries of an estate in their claim for a grant of probate in solemn form and defence of a proprietary estoppel claim over estate assets.

Ward Hadaway LLP

Ward Hadaway offers experts from the firm's private client and litigation departments. Co-practice head Martin Woodford  focuses particularly on high value claims and has unrivalled expertise working at the interface between professional negligence and contentious trusts. Woodford's counterpart, Gaynor Jackson, is known nationally for her expertise in acting for charities, particularly on the early stages of both contested legacies and claims under the 1975 Act. Noted associate Joe Kelley regularly handles testamentary capacity challenges, and is actively expanding his Court of Protection disputes practice.

Practice head(s):

Martin Woodford; Gaynor Jackson

Other key lawyers:

Joe Kelley


‘Gaynor Jackson is open, helpful, extremely knowledgeable and someone I trust 100%. I would hands down recommend her and her team.’

‘Joe Kelley is extremely bright and switched on, legally very knowledgeable, immensely impressive grasp of detail and ability to think through every possible implication at every stage of the case. A client could not be in safer hands. Very approachable and will often answer communications outside standard business hours.’

‘A well-established, reliable firm which is well-known in the north east. A safe pair of hands: excellent lawyers and range of knowledge, good availability.’

‘Very receptive to the needs of clients, and flexible in meeting the needs of clients (ie, willing to discuss issues outside regular working hours, due to limitations related to Covid-19 use innovative ways of communicating).’

‘I know that I can email or call Gaynor Jones and she will always be willing and able to help. There are never any capacity issues, and she is professional and prompt and always, always detailed. The team Gaynor has around her is well managed and seem to work in the same way.’

Work highlights

  • Acted for a high net worth individual on a disputed application to appoint a property and financial affairs deputy for the client’s mother.


BHP Law's dispute resolution team, led by recently promoted partner Phil Masters, works closely with the firm’s large and respected wills, trusts and probate offering to act on contentious probate as well as related property and trust issues. Masters is supported by newly promoted associate Rosie Woodward and senior associate Guy Barr, the latter of whom joined the department from Gordon Brown Law Firm LLP in October 2020.

Practice head(s):

Phil Masters

Other key lawyers:

Rosie Woodward; Guy Barr


‘I think that what makes this practice unique is that there is a very client-centric approach by the team. I think that the team’s strengths lie in the breadth of knowledge and experience that they have across the team and there is higher degree of dedication to their clients than at other firms: they are prepared to go over and above for even the most demanding clients to assist in getting the optimal outcome. I think that in this particular area, with its often emotional nature, the team come into their own, dealing with matters sensitively and showing their clients respect. I think that a particular strength of the team is the ability to build strong relationships with local counsel. This fosters a more collaborative approach which leads to better outcomes.’

‘Rosie Woodward is very client focused and has very good people skills. This is very noticeable when dealing with clients in disputes which are often very emotionally charged. However, she is also very street-wise in dealing with litigation, showing pragmatism and good judgment, in particular when dealing with matters involving disputes with land ownership. She also has in-depth knowledge of the legal process and is tactically more than able.’

‘Excellent communication with myself as the client and liaison with other in-house departments. Clear and regular progress updates. Clear guidance on fees.’

‘I have no previous experience in dealing with litigation and contentious issues solicitors. Being very apprehensive at the prospect, I was made to feel completely comfortable and supported by the solicitor who was acting for me (Phil Masters). He removed my anxiety and I was entirely confident that my case would be handled as well as it could be.’

‘The firm is big enough to have individual specialists in every aspect of law as opposed to just generalists.’

‘I dealt with Rosie Woodward and found her very efficient and professional. She is very methodical in everything she does to get the right result.’

EMG Solicitors

EMG Solicitors's practice is overseen by Ursula Collie, who brings many years of experience as head of commercial litigation at the firm; she regularly handles contentious work concerning wills, Inheritance Act claims, and applications to challenge or remove executors, as well as acting in complex trust disputes. Matthew Sigsworth and Katharine Ayris are also recommended team members.

Practice head(s):

Ursula Collie

Other key lawyers:

Matthew Sigsworth; Katharine Ayris


What I admired about Ursula Collie was the way she grasped my situation, not only from a legal point of view but also the upheaval and emotional turmoil I was in. She was also able to understand the situation as a whole, and provide excellent guidance.’

‘Approachable and conscientious team. They have adapted quickly to working independently due to Covid and I was never left with out my emails or calls being returned promptly.’

”Ursula Collie has provided excellent legal counsel during a very difficult time. She provides me with information and options, responds empathetically to my situation, and allows me time and space to make informed and considered decisions.’

‘We consider the advice given was balanced with all risks and costs clearly explained. We felt well supported throughout.’

‘The advice received from both Katharine Ayres and Ursula Collie was always clear and communicated with sensitivity in what was a difficult family situation.’