Fraud in trusts
Will, estate and legacy disputes
Many people underestimate the difficulty of challenging a will and there is a widespread misconception that a will can be challenged, simply because it seems 'unfair'.
Sometimes there is a genuine trigger for concern – for example if an elderly individual has left everything to a recent acquaintance. In other situations, the deceased made a rational decision that the family are well established financially, and that he or she would prefer, for example, to benefit others, such as a charity.
With a team of lawyers dedicated exclusively to disputes over trusts and succession, we can advise anyone who is defending a will or who believes a will is not valid. Our clients include family members, friends of the deceased, executors and charities.
We excel in complex matters, and our geographical reach is particularly useful in disputes with a cross-border element. For example we represented HSBC Trustee (Hong Kong) Ltd in a matter relating to a cross-border estate that was subject to UK inheritance tax. With both assets and beneficiaries scattered across various jurisdictions, we secured a discount on the IHT due and obtained directions from the High Court of Hong Kong that the tax should be paid pro rata by the beneficiaries regardless of their country of residence.
Generations of experience
For over 100 years the firm has represented successful families down the generations. This means we have the knowledge and sensitivity to handle what can be emotionally charged circumstances. In one particularly difficult case, we acted for a member of a prominent business family in Singapore, successfully establishing that the testator’s depression did not harm her capacity to make a will benefiting our client.
For many people, the assets involved are not the most important issue. This was the case for Peter Burgess, a successful British entrepreneur who was born in modest circumstances. When his mother died, he consulted us after discovering that one of his sisters had taken her to see a solicitor and draft a new will disinheriting him. ‘It wasn’t about the money for Peter,’ says partner Paul Hewitt, who advised him. ‘For him it was the principle. He had been close to his mother.’ During the case it also emerged the sister had spent £18,000 from their mother’s bank accounts on herself including Formula 1 tickets. We successfully challenged the legitimacy of the will and the Court of Appeal rejected the sister’s appeal, finding that she was the ‘controlling force’ behind the mother’s will.
Even if the validity of the will itself cannot be challenged, there are a number of avenues that can be pursued to right any wrongs. For instance, a claim for financial provision or to enforce a broken promise.
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16 November 2011 - Article
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