Firms To Watch: Contentious trusts and probate

Laura Abbott, who is a principal associate, leads the department at Shoosmiths LLP which has a ‘growing team of incredibly capable lawyers’. Abbott regularly deals with disputes relating to wills, trusts and estates.

Contentious trusts and probate in West Midlands

MFG Solicitors LLP

The ‘extremely knowledgeable and approachableRobert Weston leads the team at MFG Solicitors LLP which has been busy advising claimants and defendants on a wide range of matters, from maladministration claims to promissory and proprietary estoppel claims. It frequently supports on claims under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 while Weston continues to receive a steady flow of instructions from counsel, other solicitors and existing referrers of work. Newly-promoted partner Andrew Chandler is a full member of ACTAPS whereas Suzanne Lee  also plays a pivotal role in the department that has ‘a strong and diverse team with strong litigators as well as expert back up from its private client team‘.

Practice head(s):

Robert Weston

Other key lawyers:

Andrew Chandler; Suzanne Lee


‘I found all the people at MFG to be extremely approachable, efficient and responsive even during lockdown. I was pleased to receive regular billing so that I could see how much I was spending and where the money was going. I would certainly recommend Mfg and Mr Weston very highly to others‘.

‘It is a local Worcestershire outfit which is really well imbedded into the local community. This makes it very approachable and user friendly where you can get a good level  of ‘hands on’ partner input right from the start. Robert Weston but also Andrew Chandler are very steady and sure footed in managing their cases, in particular claims under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975′.

‘Robert Weston at Mfg was easily contactable and always attentive, revealing great knowledge of contentious probate and the law which he presented in a thoughtful and accessible way. He clearly had a good grasp of my case, seemed to understand what I was about and gave valuable, helpful advice with ease and in a sensitive and positive way. He handled my case with a rare blend of gentleness and subtlety which suited me absolutely and helped take the stress away from what was a frustrating matter‘.

Work highlights

    Wright Hassall LLP

    Wright Hassall LLP fields a flourishing and experienced team under the direction of Martin Oliver; he has acted in many high-profile inheritance disputes and is skilled at advising families who think that the deceased lacked the mental capacity to make the will or was subject to undue influence. Katie Alsop has considerable experience in agricultural litigation relating to estates and continues to deal with matters concerning high-value farms and farming businesses. Alsop also advises on professional negligence cases that arise on death and has a particular focus on post-death proprietary estoppel claims.

    Practice head(s):

    Martin Oliver

    Other key lawyers:

    Katie Alsop


    ”Martin Oliver – has enough energy to heat and light the whole region. The combination of his excellent legal mind, creative, tactical prowess and his extraordinary instincts ensure amazing results every time’.

    ‘This is a firm with years of experience in these disputes and rare experts out of London. The team attracts high value work and good clients. Kate Alsop is through, sensible and does an excellent job for the client. She always has an eye on the end game‘.

    ‘A brilliant, dynamic, approachable team of excellent lawyers. The  lawyers are tenacious and conscientious and great fun to work with. I defy anyone to find a firm that shows more consistent commitment to their clients. A Wright Hassall client is a client that has a skilled dedicated and fearless litigator by their side‘.

    Work highlights

      FBC Manby Bowdler LLP

      Charlotte Clode and Angie Manley co-head the department at FBC Manby Bowdler LLP which is skilled at handling the full gamut of contested probate and trust work. The team is adept at dealing with complex, high-value and multi-jurisdictional instructions and also has experience in Court of Appeal proceedings. It frequently advises on issues such as rectification claims, breach of trust actions and all contentious matters relating to the administration of estates and trusts.

      Practice head(s):

      Charlotte Clode; Angie Manley

      Other key lawyers:

      Kimberly Mears

      Work highlights

      • Acted for the appellant in the context of a contested estate in a Court of Appeal case. The team was instructed to appeal a decision following a High Court trial that concluded in September 2016. The appeal was based on fresh evidence adduced following the trial that the decision of the judge had been procured by fraud or that the judge had been deliberately misled.
      • Acting for a client who is the residuary beneficiary of his sister’s estate. A claim is being brought by the partner of the deceased. The case being put by the claimant includes a claim pursuant to the Inheritance (Provision for Family Dependents) Act 1975, two claims pursuant to the Trust of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996 and a claim for proprietary estoppel. The matter involves complex issues arising from disputes relating to jointly owned property of the deceased and its client which could lead to a potential insolvency issue for the estate. The claim is worth £1.1m
      • Working alongside the firm’s commercial litigation team, the team is acting in a dispute between two siblings who are the residuary beneficiaries of their father’s estate in equal shares. The estate is an agricultural estate and the parties have been unable to agree regarding valuations of the deceased’s property, land and business, and in relation to lifetime gifts which are relevant to a Hotchpot clause within the Will. The other residuary beneficiary has issued proceedings seeking the removal of the independent administrator on the basis she believes that they have not taken a number of steps required. The claim is worth £2.9m.

      Harrison Clark Rickerbys

      Under the leadership of the ‘excellent and very impressiveBeth King-Smith, the team at Harrison Clark Rickerbys enjoys a prominent reputation for its work with the high-net-worth community across the region, frequently advising wealthy individuals and long-established farming families. It receives plaudits for its advice on a vast array of complex family trust disputes from Inheritance Act claims to the removal of executors. Senior associate Alyson McGowan also has a wealth of experience in all aspects of contentious trust and probate matters.

      Practice head(s):

      Beth King-Smith

      Other key lawyers:

      Alyson McGowan


      From my perspective it is easily the best firm doing this work in the Worcestershire region. In a sense it is a local firm with a national punch. From the client’s perspective therefore they get a service that really understands their particular needs, but with the heft of a large firm‘.

      ‘Beth King Smith exemplifies that ability to identify with a client and build a close working relationship which makes that client feel like that are being given special attention. She therefore inspires great confidence in her abilities. Moreover, she is totally unflappable in the heat of litigation. She combines this with her good technical knowledge and ability to galvanise her team‘.

      ‘Beth King Smith makes decisions quickly and ensures that litigation is progressed speedily from start to finish. In a nutshell, she has the knack of making things happen a quality not always displayed in this area of work. I have also been working with Alyson McGowen whom I have found to be highly knowledgeable, with strong judgment and the ability to cut through bluff and bluster from opponents‘.

      Beth King Smith had a very ‘can do’ and enthusiastic approach from the moment I first made contact with her. Beth also showed a lot of empathy and understanding of my situation which at the time was fragile. She gave me hope when everything around me was dark. I certainly put my faith and trust in her, and she delivered‘.

      ‘Beth King Smith and the team are very professional and knowledgeable. I got answers to any questions very quickly. Nothing is too much trouble’.

      ‘Beth King Smith is very calm under pressure and well organised. She is caring and explained everything in detail so that I could understand. We came out with a fantastic result due to her excellent skills under difficult circumstances. Thank you so much‘.

      Work highlights

        Higgs LLP

        Higgs LLP excels at dealing with all the contentious aspects of high-value and complex estates and familial trusts, as well as more modest estates. It has been increasingly advising on estates that include owner-managed businesses and family partnerships. Under the direction of the ‘excellentCraig Ridge, the team acts for executors and beneficiaries on a variety of estate claims and on challenges to wills. Other team members include associates Georgia Stott and Joseph Martin.

        Practice head(s):

        Craig Ridge

        Other key lawyers:

        Georgia Stott; Joseph Martin

        Work highlights

          Meridian Private Client LLP

          With Mark Abrol at the helm, Meridian Private Client LLP's ‘great team that has friendly, helpful and knowledgeable staff‘ handles the full array of contentious matters. Abrol, who is a full member of ACTAPS and the PLA, has considerable experience of acting as an independent administrator in estates which often have multiple disputed elements. In addition, he frequently acts in professional negligence claims where the parties are seeking to recover losses that have often been incurred as a result of negligent estate planning advice. Mark Terrar is another key figure who routinely advises on cases that have complex trusts and tax structures, as well as overseas elements.

          Practice head(s):

          Mark Abrol

          Other key lawyers:

          Mark Terrar; Emma-Louise Green


          ‘Meridian Private Client is a truly unique firm, combining a number of private client disciplines under one roof. The multidisciplinary team in particular brings different perspectives to a knotty problem and a level of original, clever and lateral thinking and commercial acumen, which is often missing from other firms. The ability to be able to deal with both litigious, non-contentious and specialist tax advice to a private client issue is very impressive‘.

          ‘Mark Abrol in particular is a consummate professional and rainmaker. He is always thinking a number of steps ahead and trying to find a different angle and commercial resolution to cases. He certainly knows how to cater to the needs of high worth clients‘.

          Mark Terrar is stellar. He is very well known in his field, and also has an excellent handle on his opposite numbers. He is tactically very astute, and provides a practical approach to cases that is always well received’.

          Work highlights

          • Acting for the beneficiaries of a will trust dating back to 1978 in respect of claims for an account from the trustees and for various breaches of trust.
          • Acting for an executor and beneficiary of an estate in circumstances where the original will could not be located and a grant of letters of administration was obtained inappropriately; rebutting the presumption of revocation and obtaining a favourable settlement for the client.
          • Acting for a disinherited spouse with two minor children to advance a claim in constructive trusts for an interest in the marital home and also a claim for financial provision.

          Mills & Reeve LLP

          The ‘excellent’ and ‘very professionalLucy Howard leads a ‘strong’ team at Mills & Reeve LLP. As part of a well-regarded national offering, the group has been busy advising on a wide array of issues such as challenges to the validity of wills, actions involving trustees and executors and claims over lifetime transactions. In addition, the nimble practice acts for a number of charities on contested legacy matters. Senior associate Kim Ryan is also highly rated along with new addition.

          Practice head(s):

          Lucy Howard

          Other key lawyers:

          Kim Ryan; Kieran Leahy


          ‘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. It is a very close-knit team that goes above and beyond in servicing its clients, with whom the lawyers have a great rapport‘.

          ‘Lucy Howard has been operating at partner level for years. She is one of the hardest workers in this sector and puts her clients first in all she does, which she does by deploying an excellent understanding of the law and keen strategic sense. Kieran Leahy is keen as mustard and incredibly hardworking, as well as very personable and highly perceptive‘.

          The Mills & Reeve contentious trust and probate team has grown significantly in the few years since it was established and is one of the leading teams in the Midlands. The team is superbly led by Lucy Howard who is first-rate. She is very strong technically who really fights her client’s corner‘.

          ‘One of the stand out teams within the Midlands for CT&P work. Better known for dealing with high value contested estate work, and resourced to comfortably manage such work‘.

          Lucy Howard leads the team and has a well deserved reputation as a quality practitioner in this area. Kim Ryan is also highly competent‘.

          ‘The contentious probate team is growing rapidly with several new key hires in 2021, following Lucy Howard being made partner. Lucy Howard is a strong litigator with a finesse for detail and case law’.

          ‘Mills & Reeve is one of the few firms in the country that offers the quality of expertise in this area of the law’.

          ‘Lucy Howard – outstanding and a leading expert in her field with a great bedside manner. Kim Ryan – very thorough and diligent in her approach‘.

          Work highlights

            Sydney Mitchell LLP

            Pam Deol heads the department at Sydney Mitchell LLP, having recently joined from Thursfields Solicitors; she specialises in will disputes, Inheritance Act claims and contentious trust and probate work and is skilled at representing claimants and defendants in a broad range of cases from trustee disputes to claims against executors, estates, beneficiaries and trusts. Tracy Creed and Katie Maxwell-Stewart are among the other key members of the team. The former head of department,  Kamal Majevadia, is now at Irwin Mitchell.

            Practice head(s):

            Pam Deol

            Other key lawyers:

            Tracy Creed ; Katie Maxwell-Stewart




            ‘The firm has developed a very good reputation for being extremely responsive to their clients. Pam Deol has recently joined Sydney Mitchell to add additional experience to its contentious probate department. Pam is an extremely astute solicitor who handles these difficult cases with sensitivity‘.

            Main thing is that firm’s staff are very, very down to earth , honest and bilingual. Pam Deol is well known in sikh community for the last 20-25 years’.

            ‘They care, listen and learn all about your case and never is anything too much trouble. Pam Deol was an outstanding solicitor along with her colleagues‘.

            ‘Pam Deol is outstanding in her field. She has an ability to grasp facts and information easily, and apply her broad experience and expertise to build great empathy and trust with clients. She continues to learn and apply herself to the latest case law and never rests on her laurels. I would say that Pam is a tremendous asset to Sydney Mitchell LLP, I also know that she supports and coaches new talent in the firm as well as other activities such as writing blogs and radio interviews’.

            ‘Pam Deol is a vastly experienced litigator who is particularly adept at dealing with difficult family situations, and able in those situations to adopt a collegiate approach in order to bring people together in order often to achieve positive outcomes for her clients. When I have seen her in practice she is consistently good humoured but tough and able to work particularly well with Counsel to make her client’s case’.

            ‘Pam Deol has moved to Sydney Mitchell as a partner and will be a great asset. Pam is very professional‘.

            ‘Pam Deol is an outstanding lawyer who pays attention to detail and offers a high level of client care and service’.

            ‘I have had dealings with Pam Deol who is a partner in the contentious trusts and probate department, she has extensive experience in the her area of expertise and has great client care skills and is able to build and maintain client relationships‘.

            Work highlights

            • Acting for two executors in a complex estate dispute, spanning 20 years and including 6 trusts.
            • Acting for A in a complex contentious probate partnership dispute culminating in an 8 day trial. Its  client was successful in his defence and counterclaim.
            • Acting for B in successfully defending a court of appeal application.

            Freeths LLP

            Freeths LLP is best known for its work on high-value trust and probate litigation such as claims under the Inheritance Act, will challenges, estoppel claims and removal applications.  Mark Keeley , who ‘runs the department admirably’, divides his time between Birmingham and Nottingham. Keeley is regularly appointed by the Court to act as an independent replacement trustee/administrator in numerous contentious cases and is also a qualified mediator. Managing associate Max Orbach is ‘technically gifted’.

            Practice head(s):

            Mark Keeley

            Other key lawyers:

            Max Orbach


            ‘Freeths has a well-established and well-regarded private client team. The strength of the team transcends the regional offices. It is often involved in large private client disputes also involving the elite London private client firms’.

            ‘Freeths has a solid team in the West Midlands. Max Orbach is a strong managing associate‘.

            Freeths provided a breath of fresh air and it was a relief to find a firm not only actively willing to help but willing to go the extra mile to ensure the issue was resolved. I dealt directly with Max Orbach and wouldn’t hesitate to contact him in the future. Max went above and beyond for me and I couldn’t hold him in higher regard. He is extremely passionate, professional and knowledgeable in his field’.

            ‘Freeth’s management of my case was extremely organised. Max Orbach was fantastic, he was ahead of all the other solicitors involved from other firms, his predictions as far as time lines were always spot on and could advise me on what was around the corner, he showed a great understanding of my situation and the difficulties I had dealing with being a defendant‘.

            ‘ From my perspective it has a great deal of inhouse specialist knowledge, including a very strong private client offering. Thus the private client side and the litigation side work well together to ensure that the client receives very well rounded advice. Some solicitors rely on counsel to guide the case, but this team is very confident and knowledgeable. They think very strategically about the conduct of the litigation. There is also very good quality partner oversight, which is also proportionate’.

            The lead partner I deal with is Mark Keeley. He is very bright, had a deep knowledge of the law in particular as it develops, and had a great no nonsense but sympathetic manner with the clients. Very easy to work with.  I also work with Max Orbach who is a very deep thinker about his cases, reviewing matters from every angle. A pleasure to work with’.

            ‘Mark Keeley is an experienced litigator with superb judgment. I often recommend him as a mediator. Max Orbach continues to be impressive’.


            Work highlights

              Gateley Legal

              At Gateley Legal, Gavin Faber, whose’ knowledge of contentious trusts and probate is exceptional', heads the department; he acts as a mediator and a court appointed PR and trustee and is skilled at dealing with professional negligence claims involving negligently drafted trusts and wills, tax and investment advice. The department has been busy carrying out work nationally for individual clients, banks, executors, trustees, deputies and beneficiaries.

              Practice head(s):

              Gavin Faber

              Other key lawyers:

              Andrew McManus



              ‘Gateley Legal is a relative newcomer to the CT&P Midlands market, but has made somewhat of a splash by recruiting, firstly, Gavin Faber, to head the team and, more recently, Andrew McManus, to deputise. Faber has a long standing and well earned reputation within the Midlands market as a true specialist. Similarly, McManus is well known and will undoubtedly provide further depth and credibility to the Gateley Legal offering’.

              ‘Technically strong, commercially minded and always pleasant to deal with. Gavin Faber – really fights the client’s corner, forms a clear strategy for realising the client’s objectives at the outset’.

              ‘Gavin Faber is very calm, measured and pragmatic while also having his client’s best interests at heart’.

              ‘Gavin Faber is an acute and technical litigator with an eye for detail’.

              ‘Gavin Faber is a stand out litigator. Gavin always gets to the heart of the issues quickly and can grapple with very complex concepts with ease. He takes time to understand his client’s motivation and key objectives and works out how to best achieve them, and advises on the best strategy to ensure that the case is put on the right track at the outset. Gavin is a shrewd negotiator who has excellent judgment on where to pitch an offer to achieve the best settlement’.

              ‘Gavin Faber is an immensely experienced highly robust contentious trusts and probate litigator. For me he is the pre-eminent strategic thinker in plotting a path through complex litigation. He is a straight talker and very practical, looking to achieve tactical advantage to secure a practical solution. I would recommend him very highly. A person you want in your corner in a fight, but also someone who can find the peace!’.

              ‘The team covers the gamut of trusts and estate litigation, taking on domestic and international clients. Gavin Faber is the star of the show’.

              ‘Gavin Faber is great at managing difficult clients and giving them appropriate and focused advice’.

              Work highlights

                George Green LLP

                The team at George Green LLP is experienced at handling all types of contentious probate matters such as challenges to wills and estate disputes. It acts for various individual beneficiaries, administrators, executors and trustees. Head of team Liam Owen  continues to handle numerous high-value matters and is supported by associate Susan Ford.

                Practice head(s):

                Liam Owen

                Other key lawyers:

                Susan Ford


                ‘From my experience with the dispute resolution team at George Green, I found it very reassuring & flexible putting me at ease & accommodating to my working timetable. I also felt the lawyers were always mindful of my circumstances & in keeping my costs to those necessary‘.

                ‘The team is very good. The lawyers provide very commercial advice and are clear and comprehensive with case analysis. I have had a good experience working with this team. Liam Owen stands out as a very good lawyer: commercial, efficient and a good operator’.

                Contentious trusts and probate, and associated work, is a significant strength within what is overall a stellar litigation team. In Liam Owen, this specialist type of litigation is now being undertaken at partner level by someone of real stature, with considerable relevant experience and expertise’.

                Work highlights

                • Acted for the client against whom court proceedings had been issued in the Chancery Division by her brother in relation to a dispute over their deceased mother’s property.
                • Acting under a full conditional fee agreement for the personal representative of a deceased’s estate in respect of a property that the deceased held as a 50% tenant in common.
                • Acted for the client against whom court proceedings had been issued in the Chancery Division by her brother in relation to a dispute over their deceased mother’s property.

                Lanyon Bowdler

                Claire Vale leads the contentious probate department at Lanyon Bowdler which advises on claims under the Inheritance Act, as well as on various probate disputes involving challenges to the validity of wills. The practice is well-placed to advise on other disputes with executors/administrators and applications to remove executors/administrators.

                Practice head(s):

                Claire Vale


                ‘This practice offers a varied range of expertise which makes it easy for someone like me, who is dealing with a range of issues following the death of my partner, to link with skilled staff in all the areas of the law that I need to call on. It’s comforting to know that whatever I need help with, there is someone within the team who can take on that work and guide me through the various processes‘.

                Mainly I have been dealing with Claire Vale who is extremely knowledgeable, provides clear and succinct guidance, all the while being a very professional and friendly person. I’m really glad to have her on my side, she takes the fear out of my dealings with the claims made by my late partner’s family. She goes straight to the heart of problems raised in each communication, simplifying the content and issues so that I can easily understand the current situation and what options I have to resolve the matters‘.

                The team has great strength in depth and a considerable pool of knowledge and experience. The lawyers are able to handle all aspects of trusts and probate litigation with aplomb navigating legal issues and procedure adeptly. The team is experienced, competent and approachable. They have a breadth of knowledge in dealing with a wide variety of work, including challenges to the validity of wills, removal of executors and bringing and defending 1975 Act claims. They have achieved accreditations across the team and have a good reputation with both clients and professionals alike’.

                ‘Claire Vale is an excellent solicitor who has a comprehensive knowledge of probate issues, both in regards of the law and also practical issues which are likely to arise in litigation. She is an expert in her field. She is able to identify from a very early stage in any case the likely merits of a course of action and any issues which may be raised by the other side, or practical concerns. This is clearly based upon her extensive experience of this area of law and drawing on this she is able to guide clients through their cases with great effect‘.

                ‘Claire Vale has a range of contentious trusts and probate disputes, all of which she handles with care and attention to detail. Reassuring for clients and with a keen eye on the important points in any dispute’.

                Work highlights

                • Advising the client in connection with the validity of his late mother’s will due to her vulnerability and inability to read and write. The client does not benefit under the will but stood to inherit property and residue under his mother’s previous will.
                • Advising client in connection with the defence of claims being brought against her deceased partner’s estate by his two daughters who were estranged until the last few years of his life.

                Shakespeare Martineau LLP

                The key contact for the West Midlands team at Shakespeare Martineau LLP is Alistair Spencer , an associate and ACTAPS member. Andrew Wilkinson is the national head of the team that frequently advises on a whole host of complex issues from will disputes about testamentary capacity to rectification claims and trust disputes. The practice is skilled at handling professional negligence claims in relation to wills drafting and has a particular focus on large scale agricultural inheritance disputes, as well as proprietary estoppel claims.

                Practice head(s):

                Andrew Wilkinson

                Other key lawyers:

                Alistair Spencer


                ‘Knowledgeable and quick to respond. Reassuring, easy to approach and professional’.

                ‘Always available, up to speed on the case‘.

                ‘One of the best teams in the West Midlands. Alistair Spencer is an associate solicitor with an obvious commitment to the development of his specialist practice. He puts in considerable effort to cement his knowledge of the law (such as what can be gleaned from new decisions), and to keep up to speed with it. By this and other steps, he shows Sh Ma to provide a strong and well informed offering in the discrete discipline of contentious probate‘.

                ‘Approachable, prompt, patient‘.

                ‘It feels like you’re being treated on a personal individual level, I felt looked after by each person I have spoken to and dealt with. The knowledge & expertise is of a far greater standard’.

                Work highlights

                • Acts for a farmer in a complex and bitterly fought will challenge and proprietary estoppel case.

                The Wilkes Partnership

                Kevin Lynch heads the department at The Wilkes Partnership, which is highly-regarded for its skill at resolving contentious probate disputes. It handles a broad spread of claims against executors and personal representatives, in addition to advising on other matters such as trust disputes and proprietary estoppel claims. Jack Ackrill has been busy too advising on various will challenges and Inheritance Act cases.

                Practice head(s):

                Kevin Lynch

                Other key lawyers:

                Jack Ackrill


                Wilkes is a strong central Birmingham firm, which again has the benefit of a very strong private client team. As a result estates where there are potentially difficult tax issues are in safe hands because of the breadth of knowledge. Also, the team is particularly strong in property law which gives the contentious trusts and probate team an extra dimension in cases involving a technical property element. In conducting litigation they are very constructive and keep the clients very well informed and engaged at each stage of the litigation’.

                ‘Kevin Lynch is very affable which he combines with a sharp intellect which makes him very persuasive when dealing with opponents. “Beguiling” might be a good word to use of him. Moreover, he is able to recognise what matters and does not matter, so is very good a focusing on the true issues, without getting side-tracked by irrelevant detail’.

                ‘Jack Ackrill is very approachable and affable and  is able to see how a piece of litigation is unfolding and prepare accordingly. Kevin Lynch and Jack Ackrill are both able to see things several moves ahead. Jack is exceptionally methodical in his approach and likewise unflappable. They are both very good to work with and deliver excellent client care’.

                ‘The team is growing on account of the reputation it has built in a relatively short period of time. Even a couple of years ago, it was essentially a two-person operation. Under the dynamic leadership of Kevin Lynch, its offering in this specialist work is clearly going from strength to strength. Kevin Lynch – savvy and insightful. He has a real sense of strategy‘.

                Work highlights