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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2021 Chambers High Net Worth, top ranked for private wealth disputes (Band 1)

Finalist for STEP Philanthropy Team of the Year 2020

Finalist: Contentious Trusts and Estates Team of the Year (large firm) (2020)

Top ranked firm for contentious trusts

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)


Thank you to you and your team for all your help & guidance. Your involvement in a number of our cases has proved invaluable.

Kate Wilson, Legacy Administrator - Princess Alice Hospice

Once Stephen Richards and his team stepped in, we were able to resolve a messy situation quickly and satisfactorily, with our previous lawyers accepting liability for their errors and providing full compensation for the losses we suffered as a result of their mismanagement.

Mark Ledsom

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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How the team can help


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

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.

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.

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.

Susan Favre

Acting for Susan Favre, who owns the village of Chettle in Dorset, England. Susan's brother and nephew claimed that Susan was required to leave the entire village to her nephew, based on a purported 1966 oral family agreement.<br /> Withers successfully defeated an attempt by the Claimants to amend their pleadings to introduce a significant new cause of action, proprietary estoppel. The claim settled on favourable terms shortly thereafter.<br /> The claim involved complex valuation questions, tax issues relating to agricultural land, and issues relating to adverse possession.

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.

Vindis v Collins & Ors

We act for the adult children of the late Nigel Vindis whose will left most of his estate, including his 50% share in the highly successful Vindis plc on discretionary trusts for a class of beneficiaries. Nigel's sisters claimed to be entitled to half the share. At the same time his estranged widow issued a claim for financial provision. Working with their mother's solicitors we secured the 50% shareholding for the nuclear family.

Burgess v Hawes

We acted for the successful claimants in overturning a will purported to be that of their late mother and securing recovery of lifetime transfers from their sister and her immediate family. The Court of Appeal unanimously upheld the first instance decision.

Nicholas Turquand-Young

We worked with Jersey advocates and advised Macmillan Cancer Support on an application before the Royal Court of Jersey about the correct interpretation of a will. Under the will, two shares of residue were left to Macmillan, but under different former names. The executor considered Macmillan only took one share. The Royal Court, applying English law, held that Macmillan was entitled to two shares.

Hawksford Executors

Paul Hewitt and Phineas Hirsch worked with Jersey advocates for the RSPCA, Cancer Research UK and RAF Benevolent Fund in securing an order that Mrs Ivelaw had retained her English domicile of origin after many years living in Belgium and that she had not intended to revoke an earlier Jersey will benefitting the three charities when she made a later Belgian will.

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