Trust, estate and inheritance disputes
Succession disputes can be financially and emotionally costly. As a leading team of trust, estate and inheritance dispute lawyers, we offer sensitive advice around the world, considering all angles and working together to find a way forward.
Who should inherit what? What was promised? What is fair? These questions are not easy to answer, but where there are disputes our leading trust and succession lawyers can help.It might be that you’ve lost faith in a trustee or protector controlling a trust. Maybe a vulnerable parent was persuaded to draft a will disinheriting you. Your trust may be under attack during a divorce, or perhaps you represent a charity defending a legacy.
Disputes are often complicated and can be highly stressful, particularly if a family’s wealth is spread across the world in trusts and other assets. With so much at stake, you need the very best legal advice.
Access market leading advisors
We know that you are likely facing a complex, emotionally-charged situation. We are top-ranked for trust and succession disputes globally, with one of the world’s largest teams of inheritance lawyers dedicated to them. Recognized as ‘supportive and completely committed to clients’, we will put your best interests at the heart of what we do and offer pragmatic advice to suit your needs.
Exploring your options
Only a small percentage of our cases end up in court. In our view going to trial is rarely in the best financial or personal interests of clients who are facing bereavement, divorce or some manner of family feud. However, this does not mean compromising on results.
There are many forms of alternative dispute resolution which could help you resolve your dispute quickly and privately. In some cases, clear and robust correspondence from us is enough to secure the outcome you want. In others, a round-table meeting will achieve the best result. Should the matter go to mediation, we have accredited mediators within the team that can help you reach a fair outcome through negotiation without the stress and uncertainty of going to court. Some disputes may be suitable for arbitration, which is similar to the court process in that the parties have to abide by the decision of the arbitrator, but on a private basis. This approach offers a faster outcome and the privacy is especially welcome in trust and succession disputes.
Whatever path you choose, we will work closely with you to assess all available options and ensure you receive the best possible advice for your unique situation.
Renowned for winning complex onshore and offshore cases
Should court proceedings prove unavoidable, we are renowned for our ability to win the most complex onshore and offshore cases.
With offices around the world, our experienced cross-border trust and estate solicitors have achieved many ‘firsts’ – such as obtaining a Singapore High Court decision that certain stamp duties should not apply to residential property purchased by a charitable purpose trust, removing a protector from a Guernsey trust and setting aside a trustee decision in Bermuda.
At all stages, we aim to resolve disputes as quickly and cost-effectively as possible. This is one of the reasons we are chosen to represent many charities, including the RSPCA, Macmillan Cancer Support and the Royal Society.
1975 Act claim 26 years out of time in landmark case
We acted for Mrs Bhusate in her claim for financial provision from her late husband’s estate more than 25 years after he passed away. Despite the lengthy delay (the previous record being just under six years) Chief Master Marsh ordered that Mrs Bhusate’s claim should be allowed to proceed. In January 2020, the High Court upheld Chief Master Marsh’s decision. Shortly after, the defendant's stepchildren conceded the claim.
Bitter dispute over administration of the late Dame Zaha Hadid's estate
We advised the nominated representative of the former employees of the architectural practice of the late Dame Zaha Hadid in the bitter dispute over the administration of her estate. The executors and trustees of the estate sought the Court's blessing to pass significant assets to an Employee Benefit Trust. The Court accepted submission made on behalf of the former employees that the decision should not be blessed.
Advice following the Madoff investment scandal
Following the Madoff scandal we advised the investment arm of a bank trustee with numerous Central and Latin American settlors / beneficiaries who had exposure to Madoff.
Asset freezing in Jersey
An unreported case centered on a civil compensation claim by the US Department of Justice and resulted in the freezing of assets in Jersey which were held by a Nevis trustee. Proceedings were issued in Jersey and Nevis.
Misrepresentation to Swiss trustees
A Protector misrepresented to Swiss trustees that the primary beneficiaries had agreed that very substantial trust assets should be appointed out to a secondary beneficiary (a close relative of his) on the basis that he would provide for the primary beneficiaries. Later the primary beneficiaries requested the trustees for help. Withers advised the trustees on taking steps to set aside the transfer to him.
Contested accounting proceedings
We undertake contested accounting proceedings to challenge or defend tax issues, investment policies or accounting procedures employed during the management of an estate or trust
Fiduciary removal proceedings
We act in fiduciary removal proceedings to remove or defend against the removal of an executor, trustee, agent, guardian or conservator as a result of wrongdoing, misconduct or inability or incompetence to serve.
Designated beneficiary of a retirement account
Represented the designated beneficiary of a retirement account and obtained summary judgment defeating the claim of an adverse party seeking a portion of the retirement account.
Heirs to pharmaceutical company fortune
Represented heirs to the fortune from a pharmaceutical company in a dispute concerning control of the family office and competing claims of breach of fiduciary duty. After completing all pre-trial discovery and motion practice, Withers successfully negotiated a settlement for the heirs without the need for a costly and public trial in California state court.
Represented a trust beneficiary who obtained a million dollar judgment and an award of attorney’s fees against a trustee who breached her fiduciary duties in the administration of a family trust.
Defending a Cyprus-based trustee
We are defending a Cyprus-based trustee who faces beneficiary claims of USD$150 million in the British Virgin Islands Commercial Court.
Family trust set up to own art
We are advising in a dispute over the ownership of over 300 paintings worth approximately £13 million belonging to a company owned by a family trust. One of the beneficiaries of the trust, who had been custodian of the art, sold a number of works to auction houses as security for loans and we are currently negotiating the return of the remaining artworks. The works of art include paintings by Picasso, Renoir and Matisse.
Heir to a publishing fortune
Withers represented one of the heirs to a publishing fortune in a case arising out of a dispute with his children over the administration of various family trusts. Withers successfully resolved the dispute through alternative dispute resolution in California avoiding a costly court battle and prolonged family discord.
Swiss Trustees and a Swiss Bank
Advising Swiss trustees and a Swiss bank on the recovery of assets relating to unravelling an appointment upon the discovery of a fraud on a family trust and on the assets in the estate of the deceased settler in the sum of approximately £400m.
The F Trust and the A Settlement (Bermuda)
We acted for the beneficiaries of two trusts in this ground-breaking application under newly-enacted Bermuda law provisions dealing with mistakes by trustees and other power-holders in relation to trusts. Despite the application being contested by the UK tax authority it was successful and the adverse consequences that the trusts had suffered were unwound.
UK child entitled to cross-border estate
We acted for the son of a deceased German businessman who was entitled to a share of a cross-border estate worth in excess of £35m. The case raised complex conflict of law issues over the deceased's Will and arguments from some of the heirs that the son had no entitlement. We co-ordinated simultaneous proceedings in England and Germany and the case was ultimately settled out of court.
A Canadian museum
We acted in one of the largest will contests in the New York Surrogate's Court, on behalf of a Canadian museum. Multiple and conflicting wills were presented to the court, and the parties alleged incapacity, undue influence and legal malpractice. However we were able to negotiate a reformation of the will, including a favorable settlement for our client, which was accepted by the Court.
This Californian arbitration case, Marlene McCoy et al v US Bank, related to a family trust. The trust beneficiaries had made claims against the trust and sought to prevent our client, as trustee, from paying its own legal costs out of trust funds. Our San Diego team argued that the beneficiaries' demands were unreasonable and their order was denied on appeal.
Wooldridge v Wooldridge
Our lawyers brought the highest value Inheritance Act claim to date in Wooldridge v Wooldridge (2016). We were acting for a widow who sought to increase provision under her husband’s will after his death in a helicopter accident. The will had been “homemade”, written without legal advice, and our client felt that her husband had intended to leave her a greater share of his assets.
Charman v Charman
In collaboration with our family law experts, we advised in this high profile and complex divorce case which may be seen as the apogee of the English divorce jurisdiction's robust attitude towards offshore trusts. It marked the widening gap between the trust industry on the one hand and the family division on the other as to the respect to be accorded to trusts, and it remains a seminal case in this field today.
Beneficiaries of the K Trust
Acting for the adult beneficiaries in the matter of the K Trust with local advocates. The Guernsey Royal Court sanctioned removing a protector for the first time (following similar principles established in Jersey, where we acted, in the matter of the A Trust and the B Trust).
The Royal Society v Robinson
An eminent physicist, Michael Crowley-Milling who made English and Swiss wills bequeathed our client the Royal Society “all my assets in the United Kingdom”. The technical definition of United Kingdom excluded almost £1 million in bank accounts in the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. We successfully argued that the scientific genius had made a geographical error and had also intended to give these assets to the charity.
Ranked for private wealth disputes (London)
4 October 2023 | Event
Hybrid | Practical tax strategies: personal estate and income tax planning | Tokyo
4 July 2023 | Article
Who wants to be a millionaire? Inheritance disputes in the UK in the age of the Great Wealth Transfer
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Charities and non-profitOur significant practice in the non-profit sector means our lawyers can handle governance, mergers, commercial projects and day-to-day issues such as employment while you focus on your mission. Find Out More
Families and family officesFamilies call on us when they want a firm that understands their needs – whether they are looking to pass down wealth, set up and run a family office, or make their mark through philanthropy. Find Out More
Trustees, executors and fiduciariesEven the most experienced advisors will need legal support on complex matters such as cross-border tax queries or third-party claims. We can help you meet your obligations with confidence. Find Out More
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