Rising Stars

Personal tax, trusts and probate in Northern Ireland

Carson McDowell

Carson McDowell is a prominent name for its work in high-value and complex matters, with expertise in wills and trusts, as well as advising in relation to mental capacity matters. The group also has experience in contentious estate matters. Neil Bleakley, who has led the department since 2002, is well known for his expertise in estate planning and administration. Senior associate Andrew Davidson, who has experience in the preparation of wills and the implementation of trusts, and associate Naomi Lamont, who joined from Elliott Duffy Garrett in 2021, are names to note.

Practice head(s):

Neil Bleakley

Other key lawyers:

Andrew Davidson; Naomi Lamont


‘Neil Bleakley heads up a very impressive and improving private client team of solicitors and assistant solicitors.’

‘Neil brings a wealth of experience to his specialist area and can therefore offer a range of solutions to the challenges and needs presented by clients. Neil is attentive and also sensitive when dealing with the personal affairs of his clients, and takes a close personal interest in each case that he deals with.’

‘Carson McDowell makes clients feel at ease and can deal with all matters pertaining to their personal affairs.’

‘I mainly deal with Neil Bleakley who provides excellent advice to clients and is relaxed and knowledgeable when I have introduced clients to him.’

‘Attention to detail is excellent here, with a real personal touch to relationships.’

‘Neil Bleakley has worked in this area for many years and is rightly proud of the expertise, care and diligence he brings to his client relationships.’

‘The practice demonstrates capability, proactive approach, reliability together with up-to-date technical expertise.

‘This is a long-established and highly reputable legal practice with a very broad range of experience and expertise across a wide spectrum of legal services. This background offers clients confidence that their affairs will be dealt with professionally, effectively and efficiently.’

Work highlights

Cleaver Fulton Rankin

The ‘efficient and responsive’ Cleaver Fulton Rankin team is active for high net worth clients in the full range of matters. The group has further expertise in the administration of private and charitable trusts. Team lead Michael Graham is a past chair of the Northern Ireland branch of the society of trust & estate practitioners, and has expertise in tax, the administration of estates, and issues affecting elderly clients. Jonathan Forrester has strength in contentious matters, including proceedings to remove executors, breach of trust claims, and inheritance tax. Timothy Rankin is noted for his expertise in the operation of trusts. Associate director Brid McColgan is a key name.

Practice head(s):

Michael Graham

Other key lawyers:

Jonathan Forrester; Timothy Rankin; Brid McColgan


‘I find the Cleaver Fulton Rankin private client team unique in Northern Ireland, with a dedicated team dealing exclusively with private clients wills, trusts, long term care planning and probate.’

‘I have dealt with Michael Graham, Timothy Rankin and Brid McColgan whom I find very knowledgeable, approachable and conscientious.’

‘Great team who are always very efficient and responsive with their work. Appear to work well together, covering projects successfully.’

‘Friendly, efficient and professional.’

‘CFR are a highly respected large legal practice in NI and have a brilliant reputation. I deal mostly with the private client team, who have extensive knowledge in this area.’

‘Tim Rankin and indeed Michael Graham are both highly respected as experts in their field and are always able and willing to help with advice for clients on all aspects including trusts, establishment of trusts and inheritance tax.’

‘Technically competent, easy to deal with and great with clients.’

‘Michael Graham and Timothy Rankin are excellent ambassadors for the firm and are always quick to respond to any queries raised.’

Key clients

The Esme Mitchell Trust

The Blackburn Trust

Work highlights

  • Administration of the Esme Mitchell Trust, an NI-based charitable trust worth over £8 million, that makes grants to projects of a cultural or artistic nature.
  • Administration of the Blackburn Trust, an NI-based charitable trust worth over £300,000 that awards grants to charitable bodies with a particular interest in the support of the family, including parenting initiatives and work with women and children under 12 living in Northern Ireland.

Elliott Duffy Garrett

Elliott Duffy Garrett‘s practice covers wills, trusts, and the administration of estates, including contentious matters. The group offers further expertise in the charity sector. Team lead Neil Mulholland, who is a committee member of the Society of Trusts and Estate Practitioners in NI, has a practice which includes inheritance tax, capacity matters, and property law. Highly experienced associate Zandra Gamble, and assistant solicitor Suzanne Currie, who joined the firm in 2022 from the Sheffield office of Irwin Mitchell, are key names in the team.

Practice head(s):

Neil Mulholland

Other key lawyers:

Zandra Gamble; Suzanne Curie


The team at Elliott Duffy Garrett has unparalleled legal expertise coupled with commercial awareness, and local knowledge & connections. Every member of the team from administrative support to partners is totally client focused and provides a level of attention and service that is difficult to find elsewhere.’

‘Whether drafting wills and trust deeds or dealing with fraught family successions or contentious probate, Neil’s attention to detail and level-headed approach consistently pays dividends. He shows empathy and understanding of the client, and endless patience and ability to explain complex issues.’

Work highlights

Mills Selig

Mills Selig is active across Great Britain and internationally, on a broad range of work including succession planning, gifts and deeds, and living wills. The group is regularly active for high-net-worth clients, and are experienced in tax planning considerations. Fiona McFall, who leads the team, handles all areas of wealth management, including wills, trusts, and estate planning. Senior associate Paula Gibson, who joined the firm from Cleaver Fulton Rankin in 2021, has experience in mental capacity, controllership, and enduring powers of attorney.

Practice head(s):

Fiona McFall

Other key lawyers:

Paula Gibson


‘The team are very efficient, attentive and cost effective.’

Work highlights

Arthur Cox Belfast

Arthur Cox Belfast caters to high value and complex trusts and family office investment firms, as well as individuals with private offices in Northern Ireland. The group has strength in cross-border matters, and regularly acts for those with assets across Europe and the Republic of Ireland. Firm chairman Alan Taylor co-leads the department with consultant Rowan White, who is a real estate specialist.

Practice head(s):

Alan Taylor; Rowan White

Work highlights


Tughans‘ private client team acts for a broad range of high-net-worth clients, with experience in complex and multijurisdictional estate planning.The group has key expertise in relation to family investment companies. The department has seen steady growth since the recruitment of ‘outstanding individual’ Fiona Kirkpatrick as team lead in 2020. Real estate specialist Sinead Creighan is a key name.

Practice head(s):

Fiona Kirkpatrick

Other key lawyers:

Sinead Creighan


‘Tughans make you feel at ease, knowing that they have a wide and deep knowledge base. My experience with Tughans shows me that they look after new talent and promote diversity. The atmosphere is clearly one in which everyone is respected.’

‘Fiona was always available, approachable, reliable and thoughtful. Being shrewdly strategic, Fiona wisely steered us away from confrontation. Operating from a deep knowledge base, she gave me sound guidance.’

‘This practice has staff with expertise in both UK and Irish law, which is highly beneficial if you are dealing with cross border matters.’

‘I have mainly dealt with Fiona Kirkpatrick and have found her to be highly professional, knowledgeable and courteous. She is also able to deal with complex matters in a timely manner.’

‘In my view, Fiona is a quite outstanding individual who is clearly highly experienced and knowledgeable in her specialist area.’

‘Communication between the team and myself – anytime that I had a question or query, there was always an immediate answer. I was always kept up-to-date with developments in real time. It really was a team effort as advice from different areas was needed and Tughans were able to provide it all.’

‘I was very fortunate to have had Fiona Kirkpatrick as my solicitor – a very loyal, honest, professional solicitor who always fought my corner. The legal advice from Fiona was very informative and proactive, she was always one step ahead.’

‘From my own personal experiences with Sinead Creighan, I couldn’t recommend her highly enough.’

Work highlights

Wilson Nesbitt

The 'knowledgeable and experienced' team at Wilson Nesbitt covers all aspects of estate administration, and has notable strength in contentious matters. Co-leading are 'exceptional partner' Lenore Rice and 'capable and committed' senior partner Gilbert Nesbitt. Senior solicitor Daniel McCracken and senior associate Ciara Barlow lend key support.

Practice head(s):

Gilbert Nesbitt; Lenore Rice

Other key lawyers:

Daniel McCracken; Ciara Barlow


‘The Wilson Nesbitt team provided excellent service in a family company succession assignment which required patience and empathy in dealing with the founder shareholder.’

‘Gilbert Nesbitt dealt with a family company succession assignment with diligence and empathy. He showed patience and great care in drafting and explaining the shareholders’ agreement. The level of service and care provided to the client was outstanding.’

‘Ms Lenore Rice is a really exceptional partner in our experience of legal advice. Her client centred approach, and unhurried attitude speaks volumes regarding both her professional skills as well as her interpersonal skills.’

‘WN are innovative and always willing to think outside the box.’

‘Gilbert Nesbitt is a very capable and committed lawyer who always goes the extra mile.’

‘This firm has a wide range of experts who have detailed knowledge of specific areas. Each solicitor delivers attention to detail.’

‘The team is experience in private client and provides a no-nonsense and approachable style in dealing with clients.’

‘The team are very knowledgeable and experienced, which I feel is important when putting your trust in them to act on your behalf. Each team member has their speciality and this is a huge strength.’

Work highlights

Shoosmiths LLP

A 'great team, full of talent', Shoosmiths LLP is noted for its capabilities in all manner of disputes, working with a diverse client roster on trust and succession planning issues, proprietary estoppel claims, and matters taken before the Court of Protection, among others. The practice is headed up by Gillian Crotty, who also steers the wider litigiation services team in Northern Ireland. Stuart Nevin is a prolific adviser who focuses on high-value shareholder disputes, trust disputes, and contentious probabte. Other key figures within the team include Emma Wightman, Josh Burgess, Sarah Livingstone, and Shane McElhatton. All named individuals are based in Belfast.


Practice head(s):

Gillian Crotty

Other key lawyers:

Stuart Nevin; Emma Wightman; Josh Burgess; Sarah Livingstone; Shane McElhatton


‘Great team, full of talent. Growing department and firm which is impressing throughout the country.’

Key clients

NatWest Group


Boots UK

Northern Ireland Housing Executive

Volkswagen Group UK plc

Braidwater Group

Ulster Bank Limited


Northern Bank Ltd t/a Danske Bank

Leeds Building Society