Trust and succession disputes

Who should inherit what? What was promised? What is fair? These questions are not easy to answer, but where there are disputes our leading trusts 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, with a family’s wealth spread across the world in trusts and other assets. They can also be highly stressful, especially when you are grieving for a loved one. With so much at stake, you need the very best legal advice.

Ranked No1

Withers is top-ranked in trust and succession disputes, with the world’s largest team of lawyers dedicated to them. With 16 offices around the world including London, New York, New Haven, California, Hong Kong and Singapore, we are especially well placed to advise on cross-border issues.

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 facing bereavement, divorce or some manner of family feud. However this does not mean compromising on results.

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, several of our team are trained mediators and can help you to 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.

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, having achieved many ‘firsts’, such as obtaining a Singapore High Court decision that certain stamp duties should not apply to residential property purchased by charitable purpose trust, removing a protector from a Guernsey trust and setting aside a trustee decision in Bermuda. Our lawyers are leaders in their field, with partner Paul Hewitt described as ‘a big name in the field’ and partner Dawn Goodman rated as “fantastic,” “a leading light” and “one of the elite” in Chambers’ High Net Worth guide.

At all stages, we think several moves ahead on the ‘chess board’ of your dispute, aiming to resolve it as quickly and cost-effectively as possible. This is one reason we are chosen to represent many charities, including the RSPCA, Macmillan Cancer Support and the Royal Society.

‘One of the things Withers does exceptionally well is that we think creatively,’ says San Diego-based counsel Mary F. Gillick. ‘Our attorneys have the ability to see solutions other people can’t see.’

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Words mean what they say - when they clearly should not


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Recognition

Top ranked firm for contentious trusts

Leading firm - Band 1 for private wealth disputes in the UK

Top ranked firm for private wealth disputes

Top tier firm for contentious trusts and probate

Contentious trusts and estates team of the year (2015-2017)

Clients

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The team have consistently delivered on instructions to bring clarity and context to our enquiries in a timely manner and on budget, which has been invaluable to our Client Service Directors in running and transitioning a large and diverse client base.

Phillip Ainslie, Technical and Compliance Director - Dominion (Geneva)
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I have become rather accustomed to sub-standard service and advice which is a poor reflection on the legal profession. However, with Withers the service and advice has been faultless. We felt in completely safe hands. We were guided through the process very well and most importantly, communicated with regularly.

Jonathan Morshead
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We could not possibly hope to have been better advised. I had dinner with my parents afterwards, who looked as though the weight of the world had been removed from their shoulders. It was lovely to see. No client could have asked for more than you gave us.

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As one of the largest charities in the UK, we have complex and varied needs for legal advice. The scale and experience of the Withers’ team means that they understand the culture of our organisation and their approach is ethical, commercial and pragmatic, with impressive service delivery.

Cancer Research UK
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The team worked tirelessly to ensure my well-being and future on all levels when faced with hostile and aggressive opposition. I am deeply, deeply grateful to all of them.

Paulina Moggach
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I went to Withers because I was told that they were the best in this field. I was not disappointed. It’s not just about good lawyering, although that of course is vital. It’s about working with us and listening to find out the full circumstances of the issue.

Peter Burgess
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I have always found their style and approach to be responsive, effective and efficient with the expertise and experience to provide the highest level of legal service allowing us to make informed decisions.

Miss Mojdeh Zand, Head of Legacy Administration - RSPB
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The team work tirelessly and demonstrate complete dedication to their client’s interests. Always approachable, giving first rate advice, highly effective and results driven. A hard act to follow! 

Dale, Ingrid & Geoffrey
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I have worked closely with Withers for a number of years and they never fail to impress. Steven Kempster is quick, articulate and pragmatic – the advice and service received is first class. He is on top of the law, always one step ahead, and is both tactical and thorough when dealing with any case.

Harash Sethi, Accountant - Cornelius Barton & Co
‘‘

Withers is a trusted source of legal advice on a wide range of matters, including charity law, governance and commercial issues. The team has provided us with excellent support, allied with a sound understanding of our business and expertise of our sector. The team has proven its worth numerous times and instils confidence at all levels of our organisation with the way it handles our matters.

rspb

Meet the team

How the trust and succession disputes team can help

Track record

HEH Nizam VIII of Hyderabad

Acting for Prince Mukkaram Jah, His Exalted Highness Nizam VIII of Hyderabad, in a dispute with India and Pakistan over funds held at Natwest Bank for over 50 years. The High Court decided in Pakistan v Natwest and Ors [2015] EWHC 55 (Ch) that the Nizam's claim to the funds may now proceed. The High Court recently gave Judgment on various strike out applications and the case is now proceeding to trial.

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.

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 intended to give these assets to the charity as well.

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.

Naxos 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.

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.

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.

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.

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).

Henry Yeo

Acting for Henry Yeo in a highly contentious probate dispute widely reported in the Singapore media. Henry Yeo is a third generation descendent of the founder of Singapore's well known food and beverage company, Yeo Hiap Seng

US bank

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Trust beneficiary

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.

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.

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

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.

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 who was 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. The matter was settled swiftly.

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.

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