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Contentious trusts and probate in North

Sintons LLP

The specialized team at Sintons LLP in Newcastle regularly handles a range of contentious work, from will disputes and proprietary estoppel claims to more niche issues such as relief from forfeiture applications or domicile disputes. Practice head Emma Saunders, who joined the partner ranks in April 2021, specializes solely on contentious probate and trust. Associate Jonathan Grogan, who joined from Alderson Law in June 2021 has strengthened the team’s capabilities in contentious administrations, combining his contentious and non-contentious expertise.

Practice head(s):

Emma Saunders

Other key lawyers:

Jonathan Grogan; Emelie Rowell


‘I required urgent legal advice and Sintons got in touch swiftly, unlike other firms that informed me that there would be an expected 48 hour timescale before I would be contacted.

‘I predominantly dealt with Emma Saunders, being my advocate, there was very good communication throughout and was never any delay in waiting for a response.’

‘Emma Saunders was very pragmatic, realistic and honest about the likely outcome of my case from the onset. Au fait with issues that may potentially arise and avoided being jargonistic to the layman.’

‘The Estate was assigned to a Contentious Probate team headed by Emma Saunders (Partner), assisted by Emilie Rowell (Solicitor) and Jonathan Grogan (Associate) at the last stage. Most of the Estate’s contact was through Emelie Rowell . The Estate was impressed with the team’s ability to digest all the information given, separate the relevant, and simplify the matter which was necessary to the English Estate. Their communication were decisive, comprehensive and relevant. Usage of in house specialist teams to assist in the matter was invaluable. The Estate highly recommends Sintons LLP and mentioned team for any similar contentious probate issues .’

‘Emma Saunders is extremely intelligent and capable, and doesn’t rest until the last ‘i’ is dotted and the final ‘t’ crossed.’

‘Sintons are a solid all-round team when it comes to contentious probate and are confortable with the ordinary and the unusual.’

‘I have worked predominantly with Emma Saunders, most recently on a breach of trust dispute with an international element to it. Emma is a star of the firm and her promotion to Partner was well deserved. Emma’s masterful handling of her cases and clients has earned her a well earned reputation as a stellar contentious probate lawyer.

‘Jonathan Grogan is a very thoughtful and careful lawyer who gives his clients very considered advice.’

Work highlights

  • Advising the claimants in proceedings for a grant of probate in solemn form and the associated defence of a counterclaim for proprietary estoppel over estate assets
  • Assisting a client with an application for relief from forfeiture in a multi-million pound estate following the death of their spouse at an assisted suicide clinic abroad
  • Representing a claimant in a dispute over his late partner’s estate with regards to claims of Constructive Trust and under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975


A significant presence in Cumbria and the North, the Carlisle-based team at Burnetts supports clients on a range of contentious matters, from will and executor disputes, inheritance act claims and trust disputes to more specialized areas of work such as contentious matters stemming from the recovery of digital assets or high value agricultural claims. Practice head James Johnston is described as ‘intelligent, careful, responsive to client aims’. Senior associate Johnny Coulthard is a key practitioner with a broad practice, specialisms include inheritance act matters.

Practice head(s):

James Johnston

Other key lawyers:

Johnny Coulthard


‘The team are very helpful.’

‘Johnny Coulthard is very helpful and professional.’

‘James Johnston and Johnny Coulthard run a successful niche team within Burnetts with expertise in this area.’

Hay & Kilner

With the highly regarded ‘adept litigator’ Lucy Gray leading the team, Hay & Kilner’s contentious trusts and probate team is well equipped to handle various disputes and claims. This includes challenging and defending the validity of wills and codicils, claims for and against personal representatives and trustees as well as claims under the Inheritance Act 1975. Gray also has particular experience in trusts and estates involving agricultural land.

Practice head(s):

Lucy Gray


‘Lucy Gray is a real quality act – an adept litigator who knows how and when to pile on the pressure in well-judged correspondence.’

Ward Hadaway LLP

The ‘brilliant and thorough team’ at Ward Hadaway LLP in Newcastle combines in-depth expertise from the firm’s private client and litigation departments. Litigator Martin Woodford , who specialises in high value claims and is a key figure at the interface between professional negligence and contentious trusts, heads up the team together with private client consultant Gaynor Jackson . Jackson advises high net worth individuals and charities on contentious trust, probate and estate issues. Joe Kelley  left the firm in May 2021 to join Womble Bond Dickinson (UK) LLP.

Practice head(s):

Martin Woodford; Gaynor Jackson

Other key lawyers:

Ashleigh Lavender


‘This is a brilliant and thorough team who know their way around contentious trusts and probate litigation fantastically well.’

‘Martin Woodford is a no-stone-unturned litigator who acts fiercely on behalf of his clients but is also commercially minded.’

‘Ashleigh Lavender is an extremely bright associate who is one to watch.’

Womble Bond Dickinson (UK) LLP

Womble Bond Dickinson (UK) LLP’s team of dedicated practitioners draws on a wealth of experience at all levels of the court system as well as in negotiation and mediation approaches. It cooperates closely with the firm’s affiliated trust company, which is frequently appointed as independent trustee for estates and trusts involved in disputes. Practice head Neil Long  is based in London, he has represented clients in the High Court, the Court of Appeal and the Court of Protection. Richard Pike, who is praised for his ‘sharp strategic instinct’ is based in Edinburgh but has been involved in trust litigation across the UK. The team gained associate Joe Kelley from Ward Hadaway LLP in May 2022.

Practice head(s):

Neil Long

Other key lawyers:

Richard Pike; Joe Kelley


‘The team has a great range of experience throughout its members. They are familiar with dealing with issues arising in larger and complex estates. The contentious team appears relatively small in comparison to their non-contentious practice and other competitor firms.’

‘They are real market leaders. I cannot think of another firm in the North with as good a team, as good a set of clients, and as thorough a knowledge and understanding of the law. They get excellent cases, and they deliver excellent service. The cream of the crop.’

‘Richard Pike. He is approachable, down-to-earth, very clever, and knows a awful lot. Superb.’

‘Lovely responsive team.’

Key clients

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

Sarah Glenn & others

Work highlights

  • The firm’s trust company was appointed as a neutral independent trustee of a number of family trusts which together own an £8m agricultural holding in Yorkshire. The trust structure is subject to complex and ongoing High Court litigation between the beneficiaries, former trustees and the firm’s trust company (as incumbent trustee).


With a ‘steady hand on the tiller’, the team at BHP Law supports individuals, many of whom are executors or beneficiaries, and estates on contentious probate as well as related property and trust disputes. To this end, dispute practitioners, led by Phil Masters, closely cooperate with firm’s the wills, trusts and probate department. Senior associate Guy Barr and associate Rosie Woodward continue to play key supporting roles. All lawyers mentioned are Darlington-based.

Practice head(s):

Phil Masters

Other key lawyers:

Guy Barr; Rosie Woodward


‘Very approachable. I was made to feel entirely comfortable whilst dealing with a difficult situation. I felt immediately that I didn’t have to worry any more. Although during the pandemic/lockdown, communications were excellent, responses to enquiries and updates were always prompt. I have no experience of other firms in this field to compare with BHP Law. I am extremely happy with my encounter with them. Billing was submitted in stages and I consider I had value for money.’

‘My case was handled by Phil Masters. He was quietly reassuring at all times and I had no doubt about his competence and ability to get the best outcome for me. I have no reservations about recommending this team.’

‘Good understanding of what is often a sensitive area of litigation. The team provide a steady hand on the tiller with probate disputes.’

EMG Solicitors

Litigation practitioner Ursula Collie heads up EMG Solicitors’s contentious trust and probate practice, drawing on particular expertise in complex contentious probate matters. The practice includes disputes over wills involving undue influence or capacity issues, Inheritance Act claims, complex trust disputes and applications to challenge or remove executors. Collie is praised for her ‘empathy’, and is ably supported by solicitor Matthew Sigsworth. Both practitioners are based in Durham.

Practice head(s):

Ursula Collie

Other key lawyers:

Matthew Sigsworth


‘Our solicitor Ursula Collie has displayed understanding of my situation, attention to what’s important to me, and empathy. I have felt held by her in a very emotional situation.’

‘The whole team have been quick to respond, professional but not officious and helpful in all matters.’

‘Our solicitor Ursula Collie has displayed understanding of my situation, attention to what’s important to me, and empathy. I have felt held by her in a very emotional situation.’