Private Client Disputes

Our private client disputes group combines our pre-eminent private client and litigation practices.

We maintain long-standing, trusted relationships with our clients, as much to avoid litigation as to help guide them through it. Our lawyers are more than litigators: they are trusted advisers. They work closely with our market-leading private client team to provide a seamless service and to ensure that tax issues are fully integrated into the strategy for resolving a dispute.

Given the breadth of our litigation practice, we act for a wide range of clients, national and international, including trust companies, banks and financial institutions, investors, and high-net-worth individuals from many different backgrounds. This gives us insight into a broad spectrum of businesses and individuals, which is vital when dealing with the diverse range of assets and family situations encountered in trust, probate, family and tax disputes.

The range of services which the practice provides includes:

Trust Disputes

We are experts in high value, complex multi-jurisdictional trust disputes in the UK and in all major offshore jurisdictions.

We act for trustees, beneficiaries, protectors and trust-related institutions. We advise on contentious trust litigation and applications to court for directions in relation to the administration of trusts.

As trusted advisers who understand the sensitive dynamics in trust and family disputes, we act intelligently for our clients – maximising the chances of securing what they want and preserving family wealth for future generations. Our range of services includes:

  • breach of trust claims;
  • removal of trustees;
  • preliminary applications for disclosure and confidentiality;
  • trustee indemnities and costs protection;
  • fraud and asset tracing, constructive trust claims, freezing orders, knowing receipt and accessory liability;
  • trust disputes in the context of English matrimonial proceedings;
  • regulatory and criminal investigations;
  • litigating rights of beneficiaries/creditors;
  • rectification, mistake and construction applications;
  • applications for court approval (blessing applications) and other directions for the administration of trusts;
  • variation of trust applications; and
  • stress-testing complex structures to mitigate the risk of future litigation.

We work closely with our market-leading private client team (and with the best local lawyers where relevant) to provide a seamless service and to ensure that tax and structuring issues are fully integrated into the strategy for resolving a dispute.

We also advise clients who find themselves caught up in cross-border investigations by regulatory authorities into trust assets or beneficiaries. We assist clients in navigating the increased complexity caused by such investigations. We understand that such investigations mean that trustees are required to adjust how they operate – with a focus not only on the internal management of trusts but on the needs and requirements of external authorities.

Recent work

Long-running dispute
Advising an UHNW individual in relation to the settlement of a long-running dispute between the trustees and beneficiaries of a complex non-UK trust structure concerning both the historic administration of the trusts and disputes between family members about their respective interests. This has included multiple applications to the Bermuda courts over five years.

Complex family trust partition
Advising trustees in relation to a complex family trust partition process in order to split shares of a family business between four branches of the family, which has included balancing tax considerations across multiple jurisdictions, complex negotiations with the independent board of underlying companies and incorporating bespoke non-compete and intellectual property protections.

Complex contentious restructuring and family disputes
Advising one branch of a family in relation to a complex, contentious restructuring and family disputes involving over thirty trusts that hold a large industrial company and assets in a number of jurisdictions. Following multiple hearings over a six-year period, negotiations have covered the future corporate governance structure, tax sharing arrangements, funding and dividend policy, trust drafting and we have advised on the implementation of the approved restructuring.

Will and Estate Disputes 

We advise executors, administrators and other personal representatives as well as beneficiaries and heirs in complex multi-party will, succession, forced heirship and estate disputes whether focused in the UK alone or across multiple borders. We have particular expertise in disputes involving Shari’a law succession issues.

We understand that disputes of this nature are often bitterly fought and take place in sensitive and emotional circumstances. We are able to guide our clients through these disputes without being side-tracked by irrelevant and hurtful allegations. We focus on the issues that the court needs to determine to resolve the dispute.

We work closely with our market-leading private client team to provide a seamless service and to ensure that tax and structuring issues are fully integrated into the strategy for resolving a dispute. Our range of services includes:

  • challenges to the validity of wills;
  • claims against professional advisors;
  • claims relating to fraud and undue influence and recovery of property;
  • forgery claims;
  • removal/replacement of executors;
  • claims under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975;
  • emergency interim grants of probate;
  • freezing orders;
  • paternity disputes;
  • breach of duty allegations; and
  • applications to the court (including the coroner) for directions.

Recent work

Complex international estate
Acting for beneficiaries of a complex international estate in relation to UK and international tax issues, claims against third-parties, and in relation to a successful application for removal of an administrator in order to secure efficient wind-down of the estate and to preserve claims.

Beneficiary of a UK estate
Acting for the beneficiary of a UK estate in relation to litigation with the administrators of that estate and a dispute with a co-beneficiary, including complex historic property law and tax issues.

Challenging a forged will
Acting for the administrator of an estate in successfully challenging a forged will.

Claims under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975
Acting for individuals and estate administrators in relation to numerous claims brought under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975, including in relation to court proceedings and mediations concerning such claims.

Disputes Involving Mental Incapacity

We advise families and their fiduciaries on disputes arising from a wealth creator’s loss of mental capacity. We recognise the impact that such an event can have on families. We are sensitive and agile when working with clients in these emotional circumstances. We have significant credentials in specialist litigation in the Court of Protection.

We work closely with our market-leading private client team to ensure that tax and structuring issues are fully integrated into the strategy for resolving a dispute. Our range of services includes:

  • Court of Protection applications and disputes;
  • deputyship disputes;
  • disputes as to the validity of powers of attorney and attorney removal or replacement;
  • freezing orders;
  • statutory wills;
  • claims relating to alleged fraud and undue influence and recovery of property;
  • forgery claims; and
  • cross-border recognition of deputyships and attorneyships.

Recent work

Court of Protection proceedings
Advising the spouse of a very successful entrepreneur with dementia in relation to long-running and contentious Court of Protection proceedings regarding various challenges to the validity of lasting powers of attorney granted by our client’s spouse and the conduct of our client and their children in their role as attorneys.

Wide-ranging estate planning
Advising a businessman and philanthropist on wide-ranging estate planning matters whilst managing fluctuating capacity issues, which has required collaboration with medical specialists, management of an attorneyship for property and financial affairs, and drafting an urgent deputyship application during a period of incapacity to allow for ongoing management of the client’s complex and valuable assets and affairs.

Challenging the validity of an LPA
Advising a prominent businessman, who is an attorney under an LPA for property and financial affairs in the UK, in relation to an application that has been made in the Court of Protection challenging the validity of the LPA and our client’s suitability as an attorney. The applicant is also challenging the validity of an LPA for health and welfare, the donor’s capacity to litigate proceedings and the contact arrangements in place between the donor and the applicant.

Advising a litigation funder on a client’s loss of capacity
Advising a litigation funder on approaching and managing a situation where their funded individual had lost capacity to manage their property and financial affairs, in particular in the context of the appointment of a professional deputy and a potential change in litigation friend.

Large international trust structure
Advising the settlor of a large international trust structure in circumstances where private trustee companies have raised questions about the settlor’s capacity, which included assessing our client’s capacity to litigate and supporting them in how to respond to questions raised about their capacity.

Tax Disputes

With increased resources diverted to investigations by HMRC, information sharing regimes and frequent changes to the UK’s tax rules, we have developed considerable expertise in advising on the full spectrum of contentious tax matters, including:

  • HMRC enquiries, audits and investigations;
  • tax disclosures and settlements under amnesty regimes;
  • resolving disputes with HMRC through mediation or alternative dispute resolution;
  • tax litigation at every level of the UK courts, the European Court of Justice and foreign courts; and
  • assessing potential tax risks for clients and putting in place procedures to protect clients from such risks and to demonstrate proper tax governance.

More information on our tax disputes practice page.

Other Private Client Disputes

In addition to our well-established and top-tier trust disputes and will and estate disputes practices, and our highly specialist mental incapacity offering, our range of services includes:

  • international commercial disputes involving trustees;
  • crisis and reputation management;
  • philanthropy and charitable trusts;
  • art-related disputes, including fraud and restitution;
  • luxury assets;
  • equine law;
  • personal contractual disputes;
  • high-value property and construction disputes; and
  • litigation funding.

Our understanding of the causes of disputes – both internal and external – and the culture and dynamics unique to each business and family, ensures we are best placed to offer clear, practical and comprehensive advice to guide our clients smoothly through the intricacies of avoiding and resolving disputes.

Recent work

Trustees of a charity
Acting for the trustees of a £500m+ charity in litigation concerning the application of the cy-près jurisdiction to the charity in circumstances where its original purpose has failed.

Litigation in the Supreme Court
Acting for a member of a charitable company in litigation in the Supreme Court over the nature of their role and duties.

Misattribution of a painting
Acting for a UHNW individual in relation to a dispute over the misattribution of a painting purchased from a UK-based art dealer, which was successfully resolved.


What people are saying


"Macfarlanes’ trusts lawyers are exceptional, and the standard against which I measure other firms. The team is technically brilliant, commercially reasonable, and a pleasure to work with. Advice is timely, solutions focused, and always excellent value for money. In terms of key capabilities, the firm is a powerhouse for private client and tax. Private client matters often touch on corporate, securities, insolvency, and financing matters and what sets Macfarlanes apart is the ability to deliver fully integrated advice and assistance across all of the key private client touch points."

The UK Legal 500 2022

"They are a first-class team. It's an absolute pleasure to work with them."

Chambers HNW 2021

"They are a first-class team. It's an absolute pleasure to work with them."

Chambers HNW 2021

"I go to Macfarlanes with my most challenging cases and always know that I will get the best possible result. There is a seamless integration of tax, trust, corporate and litigation knowledge."

Chambers HNW 2023