London, United Kingdom
I have been a solicitor for some 30 years always practicing in dispute resolution. Over the years I have gravitated towards contentious probate and trust work as I enjoy working for and with people rather than corporations.
I became a lawyer because I wanted to help people achieve justice. I get a great sense of satisfaction out of getting a good settlement for a deserving client. Contentious probate now accounts for about 70% of all the work I undertake. I like to think that the quality of the work undertaken caused my practice to grow and as a result a few years ago we took the decision to train a new solicitor, Alex Burch, to do a few years in the non-contentious probate side before transferring into work with me in contentious probate to help me cope with the ever expanding work load. Alex and I have a similar style and work closely on all our cases. We plan to have initial meetings with clients and then to sit down together and analyse the case and make a plan for the case to trial at an early stage so that we can establish what we need to do, what evidence we need, what we need to prove to succeed and then we schedule regular meetings on the cases to see where we are on the plan and to enable us to step back from the hurley burley day-to-day demands and properly analyse the cases to ensure we cover all the issues and extract the maximum value for our clients in the most efficient and economical manner possible.
Over the years I have striven to improve my skills, studying through CEDR to qualify as a mediator which I believe has helped me to better understand the mediation process and better represent my clients at mediation. I also trained to qualify as a higher rights advocate, achieving a distinction in the oral exams which has assisted me in the preparation and running of cases and has influenced the way I work with Alex. Since I have come to specialise in contentious probate I thought it only right to seek out the best specialist training and I have undertaken a three year course in contentious probate and trusts which qualified me to become an associate member of the Association of Contentious Trust and Probate Specialists. I really enjoyed the course as it dealt with things I find interesting. In my view you are more likely to excel at something if you are interested in it. I had some very positive feedback from the Professor overseeing the coursework including the comment “this was an excellent letter on a really difficult area. I thought you identified all the issues and explained them extremely clearly”.
I am renowned in the firm for bringing a quiet, balanced approach to matters. Many of my clients remark that once they have met with me and told me their story they feel like I have removed a weight from them and they appreciate my calm and diligent approach throughout.
Unless I think it is appropriate, or if asked and I feel it would not harm the case, I do not do fireworks but rather seek to build a case and resolve dispute through persuasion argument and co operation which usually leads to swifter, better, more economic settlement for both sides and can sometimes even preserve family relationships. I do find it sad when families are driven apart by these types of dispute and I do not regard it as my role to make a bad situation worse. That said if the other side really wants a fight then they had better be ready for one. I can be very stubborn and tenacious when required. However in my experience it does not benefit clients to become embroiled in a dispute for any longer than is necessary and when cases drag on the costs escalate which can mean that the old maxim that the only people to benefit are the lawyers can come true in that the greater costs more than outweigh the extra concessions that have been wrung from the other side.
In most disputes there is a set amount that is being argued about which can only be reduced by legal costs. However contentious probate is one unusual area where it is sometimes possible to increase the size of the ‘cake’ which is being fought over and in that regard I work closely with Duncan Jackson in our non-contentious department and with Alex in looking at ways in which we might increase the estate through judicious use of tax rules and thereby create a situation where the settlement can actually result in a win for both sides.
2012 - 2015
ACTAPS Associate Membership Course
2004 - 2004
CEDR Mediator Skills Training Programme
1984 - 1985
1980 - 1983
“knowledgeable and efficient.”
“People such as yourself…have made this whole experience bearable”
“I would like to thank you again for all your time and expertise, kindness, understanding and patience you have shown to my sister and myself during the case…”
“Thank you for all your help we really can’t thank you enough”
“Very many thanks for all the help and support you have given to me and the boys”
"Never gives up and always shows empathy, honesty and consideration for clients"
I acted in a £1.5m estate for the major beneficiary under a homemade Will which could not be found. Without the Will my client would not receive a penny under the rules of intestacy. I located a copy of the missing Will and successfully bought proceedings to prove the Will in solemn form. There were also questions of interpretation of the Will which were determined in our client’s favour resulting in our client receiving the vast majority of the £1.5m estate.
Our client’s sister issued proceedings against her seeking an account in relation to dealings with her mother’s finances both during her life and during the administration of the estate. Alex and I drafted a response and advised our client that she had provided all her sister was entitled to and invited her sister to withdraw the proceedings. She refused and so there was a hearing at which the Court agreed with our contentions and dismissed the sister’s claim and ordered that she pay our client’s costs.
I acted for the second wife in a claim regarding an estate worth over £1m where she had been left a life interest and a small sum of money. My client did not get on with her step children and if at all possible did not want the Trust to continue or for her step children to have any involvement in her life after the dispute had finished. Accordingly I negotiated with her step children, who were the Trustees and remaindermen, and agreed a Deed of Variation which gave our client the entirety of the matrimonial home free of the Trust together with a large lump sum.
Alex Burch and I acted for the grandchildren of a farmer who died many years ago leaving a £4m Will Trust containing an option for his two sons to purchase the family farm on his wife’s death. She survived him by many years and in the intervening period our clients’ father predeceased his mother and on her death there was a dispute as to whether their uncle could exercise the option and at what value. Proceedings were issued and we undertook an ultimately unsuccessful mediation but subsequent to that mediation, with the parties better understanding the other’s position, were able to negotiate a complex settlement dividing up the assets between the parties to everyone’s satisfaction.
I acted for the family of a divorced lady. She had met and lived with a man who also had children. They executed mirror Wills sharing their estates between all their children and step children.
Following the death of my clients’ mother her former partner met and married someone else and executed a new Will leaving everything to his new wife and his children and nothing to his step children, my clients. This all took place in under a year and within that year he was dead. I managed to prevent distribution of the assets and arranged mediation. Although we did not settle on the day we came very close to settling and continued negotiations and a couple of days later had negotiated an improved settlement passing some of the estate to my clients.
My client’s mother died in a nursing home leaving a Will appointing both her children as executors and beneficiaries. My client’s brother obtained a grant in his sole name. My client was concerned that during his mother’s lifetime his brother had misappropriated some of her assets. After negotiations and threats to remove the brother as executor I persuaded him to reimburse the estate and also to compensate my client for use he had made of his mother’s property during her life.
My client was the third wife of the deceased. He was paying maintenance under a Court order to his first wife. That order was made only a couple of years after the introduction of the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 and did not contain the now usual provision excluding any further claim against the estate under that Act. Unfortunately that was too long ago to bring any challenge for that omission.
The first wife made a claim seeking what we regarded as an excessive sum from the estate. At mediation we agreed a settlement reducing the sum claimed by about 75%.
My client’s mother left her estate to neighbours rather than to her estranged daughter, my client, and her brother who I referred to another firm of solicitors. Between us we set up a round table meeting between the sibling’s solicitors and the neighbour’s solicitor where we were able to negotiate a very satisfactory settlement for the client and her brother where each of the three parties received one third of the estate. This settlement was achieved some considerable time before the case of Ilott v Mitson which confirmed that such claims were much more viable than many solicitors previously thought.
My client was the wife of a farmer. They separated but before they could resolve their finances in the divorce he died leaving a Will which left nothing to my client. I advised that she was likely to be entitled to at least what she would have received on divorce (likely to be 50% of the estate). The deceased had complex affairs. He was not only a farmer but had other companies and shareholdings and other assets which required considerable forensic assistance from accountants. The matter was complicated by the deceased also having set up a Trust for his children and by our client having been persuaded to sign over assets on separation.
Due to the nature of the assets this matter took a considerable amount of time to resolve but eventually I negotiated a Deed of Variation which permitted one of the children to continue to run the farm whilst providing our client with a home and the residue of the estate.
The deceased was a widower with one son. After the death of his wife he became re-acquainted with my client, whom he had first met during World War II, and they resumed their friendship. Unbeknown to my client, the deceased instructed solicitors to draw up a new Will leaving everything to my client and cutting out his son who was the beneficiary of previous Wills. Unfortunately by then the deceased was old and frail and his medical notes showed (and experts agreed) that he was suffering from a lack of capacity and suffering from delusions regarding his son. Unfortunately the solicitors who drafted the Will did not take any steps to check capacity. As a result I agreed a settlement with the deceased’s son which reduced the amount which my client received from the estate and passed the balance of the estate to the deceased’s son. I then successfully pursued the solicitors who had drawn up the Will for the costs which my client had incurred in having to defend this challenge to the validity of the Will.
My client was cohabiting with a younger man who was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident. He had not left a Will and accordingly under the intestacy rules my client received nothing. I bought a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act which eventually settled a few weeks before trial. The matter was complicated by the fact that my client was bringing a personal injury claim for damages against the other driver in the accident. One of the factors that a Court takes into account in assessing the sum due on an Inheritance Act claim is the financial position of the claimant which in this case was uncertain due to the uncertainties of the PI claim which potentially meant that she could be a lot better off. In the end we agreed a settlement whereby my client’s Inheritance Act settlement could be reduced proportionately by the, as then unknown, damages she might receive from the personal injury claim.
My clients’ son died suddenly. He had been in a relationship with a woman but had left no Will so she could not inherit. There was a very bitter dispute about the state of her relationship with the deceased. She claimed it was strong and that they were contemplating marriage and my clients’ claimed that they were on the verge of separating. She bought a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act which I settled at mediation.
My clients’ father was a partner in a firm of solicitors. Whilst they had obtained a grant of probate they were unable to agree to a valuation of the partnership with the surviving partner in the firm. That partner produced accounts which I disputed and eventually proceedings were issued to determine the value of the partnership and the value of all the deceased’s assets in the firm. After a number of hearings the claim was eventually decided in my clients favour for about twice the original offer from the deceased’s former partner in the firm and my clients were able to recover the vast majority of their costs from that solicitor as well.