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Trusts, probate and estates: contentious

We have long been regarded as a leading chambers in the fields of trusts, wills and probate disputes, with our reputation for excellence reinforced by constant recommendations in legal directories.

Our barristers not only have outstanding intellectual ability but also commercial acumen and sensitivity to the needs of clients, with a commitment to providing an excellent quality of service.

Areas of expertise include:

  • The scope of trustees’ powers and duties
  • Construction and rectification of trust documents
  • Probate disputes, including issues of construction and rectification of wills and testamentary capacity
  • Administration of estates, including cross-border issues
  • Claims under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975
  • Trusts in a commercial context, including employee benefit trusts and Quistclose trusts
  • International trust and estates disputes, including conflicts of law issues
  • Trust issues in matrimonial proceedings
  • Charitable trusts
  • Applications to the Court of Protection
  • Professional negligence in trust and estates matters
  • Art and cultural property law (more information here)

Our barristers have a wealth of shared knowledge and experience. We are trusted and valued for our skills and know-how in the private client field. Our annual Wilberforce Trust Litigation Conference is a firm fixture for leading private client practitioners, providing a forum in which we can examine and discuss recent trends and developments with our clients.

We are regularly instructed by accountants, banks and financial institutions, as well as solicitors, attorneys and advocates. We are experienced in handling international work in offshore jurisdictions including Jersey, Guernsey, the Isle of Man, Bermuda, the Bahamas, the Cayman Islands, the British Virgin Islands, the Turks and Caicos Islands, Gibraltar, Hong Kong and Singapore.

Rankings and recognition

Chambers High Net Worth Awards 2020: 

Winner of Set of the Year

The Legal 500 UK Awards 2020:

Winner of Private Client Set of the Year

Brian Green QC – Shortlisted for Private Client Silk of the Year

Chambers Bar Awards 2018:

Winner of Chancery Set of the Year

Quotes from the Trusts, Tax, Probate & Estates / Chancery: Traditional 2022 sections of Chambers & Partners and The Legal 500 include:
“This is a pre-eminent set with some legendary members in this world.”
The Chambers is made up of great talent and there is always help at a high level when needed.
“Fantastic set with quality throughout.”
“Excellent, top of the market, with a price tag to match, but worth every penny!”
“Wilberforce is undoubtedly the top set in the trusts and probate world. Its strength in depth is second to none.”
“The set as a whole has an extremely strong profile in the area with some really stellar performers.”

Chambers & Partners UK 2022:

Wilberforce Chambers is “the go-to set for chancery work,” says an interviewee who explains: “The set has excellent barristers who are all very approachable and a pleasure to deal with as well.” The set’s respected silks and juniors are regularly instructed in complex pensions, wills and trusts matters, and often act in cross-jurisdictional and offshore cases.

The Legal 500 UK 2022:

Wilberforce Chambers ‘obviously is one of the top sets for offshore trusts’ and is a ‘set that excels in this field.’ The ‘highly intelligent’ Brian Green QC is acting for the defendant (a major bank) in £450m Hong Kong proceedings concerning the alleged breach of trust and other consequential issues. In another major case Gilead Cooper QC (an ‘intellectual giant’) is acting for Paul Nicholls (guardian of the infants) in Kea v Watson & Ors, a long-running dispute between two New Zealanders before the Jersey courts, concerning the validity of an interim arrêt (a form of seizure) of interests in three trusts to enforce payment of UK judgments.



Recent leading trust cases in which our barristers have been involved include

  • Financial Services Compensation Scheme Ltd and others v Estera Corporate Trustees (Guernsey) Ltd high-value trusts dispute arising from the insolvency of the Freedom Bay property development scheme in St Lucia. The case raises important legal questions about trustees’ ability to rely on investors’ contributory negligence as a defence.
  • Spitalfields Open Space v The Governing Body of Christ Church Primary School and Others – in the wake of the multi-million pound restoration of Hawksmoor’s masterpiece, there was a long-running legal dispute over the consecrated churchyard which forms the setting to the Church, a World Heritage Site.
  • Viscount Hood as Executor of Estate of Lady Hood v HM Revenue and Customs – high-value, high-profile Court of Appeal test case affecting thousands of people regarding key inheritance tax provisions relating to “gifts with reservation” in relation to family homes.
  • Children’s Investment Fund Foundation v HM Attorney General heard in the Court of Appeal in 2018, this case concerns a registered charity, which sought approval of making a grant of $360m to a new charity established by one of its trustees. It marks the first time that the question of duties owed by members of a charitable company has been considered by the courts, and has significant implications for members of charitable companies.
  • British Airways plc v Airways Pension Scheme Trustees Ltd – widely regarded as one of the most important in the pensions industry. It relates to the exercise discretionary powers and the proper purposes for which those powers can be exercised by trustees.
  • Akers v Samba – a successful appeal to the Supreme Court on the application of section 127 Insolvency Act 1986 and the Recognition of Trusts Act 1987 to a disposition of legal title to Saudi shares held under a Cayman Islands trust.
  • Labrouche v Frey & Ors – a long-running claim for breach of trust, which principally concerns the relationship between an English Will trust of a Swiss resident and a Liechtenstein Establishment and issues regarding remuneration of the trustees.
  • Futter v HMRC and Pitt v Holt – the seminal Supreme Court decision on what had become known as the rule in Re Hastings-Bass and on the ability to set aside voluntary dispositions on the ground of mistake
  • Day v RCM  – Linked appeals concerning an enduring power of attorney, inter vivos gifts of chattels and the rule in Strong v Bird
  • Marley v Rawlings  the Supreme Court decision on the construction and rectification of wills
  • Rawstron v Freud (High Ct)  – Whether the will of Lucian Freud created a fully secret trust
  • P L Travers Will Trust Trustees v HMRC (FTT)  – Whether the royalties from the Mary Poppins stage musical were income or capital receipts for trust law purposes, and their correct tax treatment
  • CIR v Nice Cheer Investments (HK Court of Final Appeal)    Whether unrealised profits of a trader in investments were liable to profits tax.
  • MHI v Cayman Island Tax Information Authority – representing companies in a judicial review which established the obligations of Revenue Authorities seeking to enforce Tax Information Exchange provisions under the OECD model or double taxation treaties.

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