THE changing face of relationships in the UK has led to a huge surge in demand for legal experts who specialise in disputes over wills.
Contentious probate, an area of law which typically involves families at odds over a loved one’s estate is now a major part of one legal firm’s work.
Cartmell Shepherd has the biggest specialist team in Cumbria - and one of the largest in the north - with a number of experts who are accredited by trade body ACTAPS.
Three members have already achieved the coveted standard - which requires the completion of a two-year course - with a fourth part-way through.
Among them is managing director of the UK200 law firm, Peter Stafford. He said: “We are seeing a marked increase in the number of people seeking expert advice on issues of contentious probate.
“It is basically a reflection of the complexities of today’s society and relationships compared to, say 20 years ago.
“There are far more instances of individuals with children having second marriages, people cohabiting but not necessarily marrying or making a will, or indeed complexities within family units which are intact, but for whatever reason, fractured.
“The upshot of all of this, is that when someone dies, in many cases there are multiple layers of familial history which can - and so often do - lead to complications, disputes and disagreements over an estate.
“From a Cartmell Shepherd perspective, we have ensured in recent years that our team engage in continuous professional development in this area to make sure we are delivering in this area for our clients.”
The Association of Contentious Trust and Probate Specialists (ACTAPS) was established in 1997 for lawyers specialising in contentious trust and probate work.
Its objective is to provide a forum for specialists to exchange experience, know-how and an appreciation of the law and statutes in what is a specialist area. Members are bound by a strict code of conduct.
Stephanie Johnson has been a member of the Cartmell Shepherd team for more than 20 years and is an associate member of ACTAPS.
She said: “I really enjoy dealing with this area of law because of the personal element. We are assisting in matters which invariably affect people’s lives.
“There is quite a lot of variety. It is about individuals or families who are trying to do the right thing if they think something has gone awry, for example when a will was being made, or when an outcome is not fair for them.
“One of the areas in which I am seeing an increase in activity is lasting powers of attorney relating to how decisions are made when people have lost, or start to lose the capacity to make them for themselves. There is so much more awareness in this area now, as more and more people put plans in place.
“The value of ACTAPS is that as an associate, I am involved in conversations, learning and development around key aspects of contentious probate. The two year process to become affiliated is very worthwhile and allows you to consolidate the knowledge you have, whilst building upon that knowledge in new areas.”
Peter Stafford is a full member of ACTAPS. To achieve such status, the post of associate must be held for a minimum of two years and a set proportion of casework must be in the area of contentious probate.
Stephanie Johnson and Becky Armstrong are associate members, while colleague David Tew is part way through the two-year process of joining them.
If you need to speak to an expert in contentious probate, please contact Cartmells on 01228 516666.