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Personal & Family Wealth

Wealth attracts disputes. We will help you anticipate problems and protect your rights when others make claims against you.

I am involved in a dispute

Below are some examples of the opportunities and challenges we respond to on behalf of wealth owners, their families and their other advisers.

Someone has made a false allegation about me.

False rumours should not be allowed to smear a reputation

Our client, a public figure, was the subject of false rumours circulating in the media.

Within 24 hours we obtained an injunction that stopped the story being published in print, and we also had aspects of the story that had already appeared online removed. 

Confidential information kept out of divorce proceedings

Confidential information was taken from our client as she was going through a divorce, and was going to be used against her in the divorce proceedings.

We made an urgent – and successful – application to the court: the materials were returned to our client and the information was kept out of the divorce proceedings.

I was given some bad advice and want to make a claim.

Solicitors can be forced to pay for poor advice

When our client invested in a company he signed an agreement drafted by his previous solicitor. It included a clause that should have allowed him to claim repayment of specific tax liabilities from the seller.

The clause turned out to have been poorly drafted and our client was unable to enforce it. We advised him on a compensation claim which the insurance company settled at an early stage.

Financial advisers can be called to account for losses

Investors must, like all buyers, beware - but investment advisers must advise carefully.

Our client suffered a significant loss when markets fell – on an investment he believed was protected from that kind of downturn.  We found that the advice he received may have breached regulator’s rules and helped him recover part of the loss from his investment adviser.

Someone has made a claim against my trust.

Creditors’ claims should not dent a trust’s assets

If you set up a trust you want the assets to benefit the beneficiaries.

We helped our client show he had not, as his creditor asserted, set up a trust in order to put assets beyond the creditor’s reach. As a result the trust assets were protected for his family.

Keeping trusts out of the divorce courts

An acrimonious divorce almost always means arguments over money. One client’s soon to be ex-wife claimed that a trust – established by his father – should be part of the financial settlement calculations.

We helped him block the claim by showing he had only received limited funds from the trust and that it was intended to benefit future generations.

If most of the family’s assets are held in a standard discretionary trust, it is often the case that the family courts in England and Hong Kong will treat the trust assets as a “resource” and included in the matrimonial “pot“ for division. We led the team representing HSBC Trustee International Limited up to the Court of Final Appeal in Hong Kong in a ground breaking divorce and trusts case of Kan Lai Kwan v Poon Lok To Otto which involved a discretionary trust in Jersey worth HK$156 billion.

  • If it’s a dynastic trust, where the financially stronger party is the settlor, but not a beneficiary of the trust, you might well find the reverse is the case and the trust is completely ring-fenced from claims: but the trick is to set these types of trusts up long before the marriage has started to break down. Taking responsible asset protection advice at the earliest possible stage is crucial.

    Marcus Dearle, Partner and Head of Family Asset Protection - Private Client
  • The English Family Division has very wide powers to vary trusts.

    Joby Davies, Partner - Dispute Resolution

I want to challenge a Will.

Careful evidence-gathering prepared the ground for a negotiated settlement

We helped a client challenge her father’s Will: it left the lion’s share of the estate to her brother. We discovered that our client had solid grounds for a challenge. There was clear evidence that her father had “variable” mental capacity when he signed the Will and that her brother had been involved in giving instructions for the Will.

We advised our client that the courts were likely to set the Will aside. Brother and sister agreed, after some negotiation, to share the estate evenly.

A financially dependent partner successfully contested a will

When the head of a wealthy family died he left his long-standing partner very little. The family were not willing to help.

We advised the partner that she was entitled to reasonable provision from his estate as she had lived with him for many years and was financially dependent on him. We took the case to court and the court granted her a substantial sum.

An out-of-court solution to a will challenged on Shari’a law grounds

Our UK-based Middle Eastern client inherited a large share of his father’s estate. Some family members challenged the Will on the grounds that it did not follow Shari’a rules on forced heirship.

We were able to agree a set of terms with the family and vary the Will to make the agreed changes – without the cost and publicity of a court case.

The tax authority is investigating my tax affairs. What should I do?

HMRC investigation ends with tax liability far below the original demand

HMRC opened an inquiry into the tax affairs of our client, a UK resident non-UK domiciled entrepreneur who was the beneficiary of a high value non-UK trust. The inquiry swiftly expanded to cover a number of related trust and corporate structures that held both UK and non-UK assets.

We stopped the inquiry from spreading further – and minimised disclosure – by keeping it focused on HMRC’s technical arguments. At the end of the investigation, our client paid a tax liability that was significantly lower than the original demand.

Bank’s error triggered an HMRC investigation that found no fault

Our client travels and works in several jurisdictions but is not a tax resident in any.

One of his non-UK banks informed HMRC – wrongly – that he was UK resident. After an exhaustive process HMRC accepted that our client was not UK resident and had no UK tax liabilities. We are still discussing this matter – and the associated costs – with the bank.

I disagree with how the trustees are running the trust. What can I do about it?

Secretive trustees may have something to hide

Our client, a beneficiary of a non-UK trust, believed the trustees weren’t making decisions in her best interests. When she asked for information they stonewalled her.

We got a court order that forced them to disclose the information: it suggested that our client’s suspicions were well founded.  We launched a claim for breach of trust.

Persuading protectors that they need to remove trustees

Many trusts have protectors with the power to remove trustees. The courts can remove trustees but it’s a slower, more expensive, less certain option.

Our client, a beneficiary of a trust, felt the trust was being poorly managed. We worked with the beneficiary and other family members to persuade the trust’s protector of their obligation to intervene and appoint new trustees.

Someone made an investment on my behalf, and is claiming the profits.

Court awarded 75% of disputed partnership assets to our client

Our client invested with a partner in a substantial real estate project. After they sold the development there was a dispute about who owned a residual interest.

The partner claimed ownership and the original documents weren’t clear. We took it to court and the judge awarded 75% of the assets to our client.

Defeating a fraudulent claim

Our client was a beneficiary of a trust that held shares in an offshore company that had several other investors.

An individual who had made a loan to the company produced documents that suggested he had a right to shares in the company. Our client was suspicious but the original signatories of the agreement were dead.  We issued proceedings and defeated the claim.

My bank has frozen my assets.

Frozen funds released in order to complete transactions

Press reports suggested that our non-UK client was about to be put on a list of sanctioned individuals. Several banks in different countries immediately froze his accounts.

We negotiated with certain banks to release the funds our client needed to complete specific transactions while the sanctions issues were resolved.

Banks can agree loans when assets are trapped in probate

When our client died her assets were frozen while her executors worked through the probate process. Meanwhile, her family were unable to meet personal expenses or commercial obligations.

We negotiated with the banks to put significant loans in place against assets held by the bank until the assets could be released.

The courts can get results when negotiations fail

A trust company refused to release a trust’s assets after it had terminated the trust because of threatened litigation.  Negotiations with the trust company failed.

We made an application to court, arguing that the potential claim was against the trust company and that it would not be allowed to pay the claim out of the trust assets – so it had no right to hold on to the assets. We succeeded: the court ordered the trust company to release the assets.

“The explosion of social media in the last 10 years means there has been a proliferation of potentially libellous allegations.”

Graham Shear, Partner - Head of International - Litigation & Corporate Risk

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