Category Archive: Personal and Family

An insight into resolving child-related family law disputes

Sintons’ family law team includes lawyers with expertise in all areas of family issues, including divorce and separation, financial disputes and cases involving children. Trainee legal executive, Chloe Bennett, explains the approach the team takes when helping clients resolve disputes about access to children.

What kinds of family issues can you and your colleagues help people resolve?

We really span the breadth of family law and that often includes supporting clients who are having disputes about access to children, during or after a separation.

These are often situations which are very difficult for the people involved. For example, one parent could be refusing to allow the other to see the child, or it could be that a parent is withholding financial contributions.

We also help in cases where one parent has removed a child, including when a child has been taken overseas. We have experts in international family law within the team and are very used to resolving cases that cross borders.

How do you approach cases like this, which can obviously involve a lot of stress for your clients?

People can often feel quite vulnerable when they come to us and we’re conscious that we’re dealing with matters of the heart. So we don’t just look at the legal aspect of things, we look at the entire situation and what other support our client needs, whether that’s counselling, mediation or something else.

What are the first steps you take when someone contacts you about a case involving children?

We take time to talk to you, understand the situation and find out what your concerns are. We’re then able to advise on your options, which can vary depending on the situation.

For example, I spoke with a client yesterday and, in his case, I recommended that mediation could be used in the first instance. Other cases can be more complex and we might need to issue an urgent court application for a child to be returned. In a case like that we would talk you through the process, explain the potential outcomes and we’d act quickly to get the situation resolved as soon as possible.

How do you make sure you’re acting in the best interests of children?

Everything we do is child-focused. That can sometimes mean we have to have difficult conversations with people about what’s best for the child but we don’t shy away from this. Ultimately, what’s in the best interests of our client is to reach the outcome that’s best for their children.

Find out more about Chloe and her colleagues in the family law team here.

Sintons’ lawyers shortlisted in Northern Law Awards

Sintons has been shortlisted for two Northern Law Awards, with senior solicitor apprentice Saffron Sinclair shortlisted as Apprentice of the Year, and the firm’s team of personal injury lawyers in the running as Team of the Year in the personal injury and clinical negligence category.

Chris Welch, managing partner at Sintons, said: “I’d like to congratulate our team members, whose inclusion in this year’s awards shortlist is so well-deserved. It reflects the skill and care they show across all their work, and is a reflection of the high standards of legal advice Sintons is known for.”   

Saffron Sinclair was one of the first apprentices to join Sintons through the North East Solicitor Apprenticeship programme. Now in her final year, she acts as an ambassador for the apprenticeship programme, using her experience to help more future apprentices access a career in law.

“Saffron really is an incredible, upcoming legal talent,” said Chris. “She’s demonstrated excellent skills throughout her apprenticeship and has excelled in every department she’s worked in, with her colleagues and her clients unanimous in their praise for her.

“Not only that, but she achieved a first class honours in her degree and has scored amongst the highest marks in England and Wales for her SQE exams.”

Sintons’ personal injury team includes dedicated neurotrauma specialists, alongside solicitors who focus on supporting clients who have experienced serious injuries. The team has already been recognised in the Legal 500 and Chambers UK guides for the quality of its work and are a previous Northern Law Awards winner.

“Our personal injury team are all absolutely dedicated to securing the best possible outcomes for their clients,” said Chris Welch. “They work closely with clinicians, therapists and other healthcare organisations to make sure people have access to early, effective rehabilitation support and deal with cases involving the most serious injuries.

“I can attest to the fact that the team works tirelessly to support people through life-changing injury.”

This year’s winners of this year’s Northern Law Awards will be revealed on 27 June at an awards ceremony at St James’ Park in Newcastle upon Tyne.

Find out more about Saffron Sinclair here and about Sintons’ team of personal injury specialists here.

The ‘Common Law Marriage’

Cohabiting couples make up 1 in 5 families in the UK and they are the fastest growing family type over the past 10 years. It is still believed by many unmarried couples that the ‘common law marriage’ exists and that legal rights flow from this type of relationship. However, the law in England does not recognise ‘common law marriage’.

Cohabiting and unmarried couples believe that the law offers the same protection them if they separate as it does for married couples. A recent survey by the family law group Resolution | Resolution found that almost 50% of unmarried couples are unaware that they lack any legal rights on separation.

Cohabiting couples are not entitled to a share of their partner’s property or assets on separation, regardless of how long the parties have been in a relationship.  Issues can arise in particular where unmarried couples reside in a property which is only owned by one party. Another difficulty is that there is no ability to claim help for childcare costs from an ex-partner in order to be able to return to work.  Essentially, each party to the relationship is considered completely separate and it matters not what might be a fair outcome.  This is set against the law which protects parties to a marriage wherein the economically weaker party is protected, regardless of whether they brought assets into the relationship.

Resolution have launched their ‘Vision for Family Justice’ which includes proposals for reforming the laws to offer protection to cohabiting couples. There are also proposals for reviewing the framework of Schedule 1 of the Children Act 1989 which seeks to provide financial assistance for children as an alternative or in addition to child maintenance and also the entitlement of intestacy on the death of a cohabiting partner.

Until such time the law for cohabiting couples in reformed, unmarried couples can protect themselves by creating a cohabitation agreement. A cohabitation agreement can be used to grant protection to unmarried couples and clearly set out how property and other assets will be divided in the event of a separation. The agreements are a helpful way of recording parties intentions and aim to avoid disputes arising in the future, future legal costs and potentially litigation.

From experience, our family team have found that having a cohabitation agreement in place, improves communication, provides clarity to parties and does avoid acrimony where disputes arise in the future.

As mentioned above, there are also implications upon death of one of the parties and in matters such as this the team draws experience from the firm’s Wills, Trusts and Estates dispute team.

Sintons’ Court of Protection team welcomes new solicitor

Sintons’ Court of Protection team is expanding with the addition of a new solicitor.

Rebecca Spellman joins the team having recently completed her training contract to become a qualified solicitor. She brings with her expertise in Court of Protection work as well as wills, trusts and estates.

Paul Nickalls, head of Sintons’ personal and family law department, welcomed Rebecca to the firm, saying: “Our Court of Protection lawyers do a very specialised and varied job. They are committed to supporting clients in every aspect of their lives. . I know Rebecca and her previous experience will be a great asset to Sintons and to our clients.”

Rebecca graduated from Northumbria University with a Master’s degree in law before gaining practical experience as a paralegal and as a trainee solicitor. She has travelled and worked in Australia and also volunteers for Mencap, a charity for people with learning disabilities.

Rebecca said: “Since I started my legal career, I’ve worked in a variety of areas of law but Court of Protection work is something that’s close to my heart and I’m looking forward to joining Sintons’ team of specialist lawyers.”

The Court of Protection team assists people with a wide range of issues including acting as professional deputy, advising on deputyship applications, gifting applications and statutory will applications, setting up personal injury trusts and acting as professional trustee.

The team works closely with Sintons’ Wills, Trusts & Estate Disputes and Healthcare teams, on contentious issues that arise concerning the health, welfare or finances of someone lacking mental capacity.

Find out more about the Court of Protection team here.

Stamp of approval for Sintons’ residential conveyancing team

Sintons’ residential conveyancing team has once again received a stamp of approval from The Law Society.

The Law Society’s Conveyancing Quality Scheme (CQS) is awarded to firms which demonstrate the highest standards of competence, risk management and client service levels.

Anna Barton, who is a partner at Sintons and who heads up the team, said: “The CQS is a recognised quality standard for conveyancing practices. Achieving accreditation once again not only serves as a stamp of approval from our regulator but it also means we are able to service our clients’ needs by maintaining our status on all the major lending panels.”

Anna’s team works with individuals and investors to manage property purchases, sales, lease extensions and all associated legal matters.

Their clients range from first time buyers to the owners of large property portfolios and they regularly manage high value and complex cases in the region and beyond.

“A lot of our clients stay with us for many years and they often recommend us to their friends and family, which is of course a brilliant endorsement.

“Together with accreditation from The Law Society, this demonstrates to our clients that they are in safe hands – something that’s so important when you’re buying or selling a home, or managing a large investment,” added Anna.

Find out about the services that Anna and her colleagues offer here.

New appointment brings 30 years’ experience to residential conveyancing team

A Chartered Legal Executive with more than 30 years’ experience has joined Sintons’ residential conveyancing team.

Alison Smith will work alongside the firm’s residential conveyancing lawyers, helping clients buying and selling properties.

Anna Barton, partner at Sintons, said: “Alison is hugely experienced in what she does and she’s the perfect addition to the team. I know she will play a central role in making sure our clients’ transactions are handled diligently and professionally.”

Alison is a Fellow of CILEX, the professional association and governing body for over 21,000 Chartered Legal Executive Lawyers, other legal practitioners and paralegals and she has extensive experience in all aspects of residential conveyancing.

On joining the firm, Alison said: “Sintons works with a huge variety of clients, from first time buyers to investors with large portfolios, and it is an exciting place for me to continue my career.

“Buying and selling a home or investment property can be a major event in people’s lives and I’m looking forward to working with my new colleagues to support people through the process.”

Find out more about the services offered by Sintons’ residential conveyancing experts here.

Promotions for Construction & Engineering and Wills, Trusts & Estates Disputes specialists

Two members of Sintons’ team have been promoted to become Associates: Emelie Rowell and Jay Balmer both take up their new positions from the start of April 2024.

Emelie is a member of Sintons’ wills, trusts & estates disputes team. She was named as a key individual in the Legal 500 Guide 2023 and 2024 and, in 2021, Emelie completed the Association of Contentious Trusts and Probate Specialists course to hone her expertise in this field.

Jay specialises in construction & engineering law, providing advice to national clients on construction and engineering projects and disputes.

Chris Welch, managing partner at Sintons, said: “Both Emelie and Jay have an obvious passion for their particular practice areas and the kind of commitment and insight that makes us proud that they are part of the firm. Their promotions are well deserved and I look forward to seeing them develop their careers even further with us over the coming years.”

Emelie commented: “I’ve been at Sintons since 2017, when I started as a trainee solicitor. I knew it was the place I wanted to begin my legal career and, seven years on, I love being part of a growing and highly-regarded firm.”

Jay, who also completed his training contract at Sintons, added: “Sintons is a firm with an outstanding reputation – both for its legal practice and as a place to work. The training I received set me up for a successful career and I’m pleased to be taking this next step here at Sintons.”

Find out more about Emelie Rowell here and about Jay Balmer here.

Life as a paralegal and future trainee solicitor with Sintons

Caitlin Edwards is a paralegal at Sintons and, in September, she’ll join the firm’s two year graduate trainee programme. Here, she describes what it’s like to work at the firm and shares advice for anyone applying for a traineeship.

What’s your role at Sintons?

I’m a paralegal in the Court of Protection team. I’ve been with the firm just over two years and, shortly after I joined, I applied for a training contract and I was lucky enough to get it.

I hadn’t done my LPC when I started here so I have been completing it part time alongside work, over two years. I’ll be all done with that in July, ready to start my training contract in September.

What kinds of tasks do you work on, day to day?

The Court of Protection team manages the property and affairs of people who lack the capacity to do it themselves. A lot of our clients have suffered brain injuries, some have dementia and some have had a stroke

Some of the things we help people with include managing any settlement they might receive after an injury, helping them make a will, or purchasing a property on their behalf. If they need adaptations making to their property we can manage that for them and make sure they’re receiving good value for money. I’ve even planned a wedding! In October, one of my clients got married and I never thought I’d be involved in planning a client’s wedding but it was really interesting.

Day to day, I liaise with financial advisers, therapy teams, architects if we’re working on a property project, and we work closely with our colleagues in Sintons’ neurotrauma, family law and personal injury teams.

It’s incredibly varied and when I become a trainee in September, I’ll still be working on a lot of the same kinds of tasks, but I’ll be working towards becoming a qualified solicitor.

Which other areas of law would you like to experience during your training contract?

During the two year training contract we work in four different teams, so I will move from my current team in September. I’m really keen to do a seat in our neurotrauma team and I’ve spoken to some of the people in that team already. They’ve all been really helpful and happy to answer any questions.

I’m also interested in contentious probate and dispute resolution. But we’ll see!

What advice would you give to someone applying for trainee programmes now?

At Sintons, the application process is about finding out who you are as a person and you can tell that’s a priority for the firm. Obviously your grades are important but it’s also about you and your values, which I think is a huge part of working here.

So, it’s a cliché, but be yourself. When I first started applying I took all my piercings out because I thought that wasn’t what a law firm would want me to be like. But in reality, you just need to be yourself.

Also, not everyone has previous experience in a law firm but remember that any kind of experience you have is useful and valid. Before I worked here I worked in Boots and in my interview I found I was able to talk about all the people skills, the communication skills and the decision-making I’d learnt working in retail. This kind of customer service experience is something a lot of young people have; it’s so important and something the firm will recognise.

What attracted you to working here?

When I was at university I always assumed I’d go and work in London. You were geared up to apply for London firms and go down the commercial route. But now, a lot of my friends train in London firms and I don’t think they have the work-life balance you have here. Why would I leave Newcastle when the quality of the work and the people I’m working with is just as good as anywhere else?

And during the time I’ve spent here as a paralegal, I’ve experienced the sense of community there is at Sintons and I’ve seen the time and the money that’s invested in trainees. It was an easy decision for me. Why would I want to go anywhere else?

What’s the social life like for trainee solicitors at Sintons?

There’s a really good social aspect to working here. We all go out on the last Friday of every month and everyone is so approachable and nice, you can chat to anyone.

In our team we’ve had Christmas dinners and nights out. The firm puts on a Christmas party and a summer party – I’m helping plan this year’s summer party and it’s looking very exciting!

If you had to pick three words to describe your experience at Sintons, what would they be?

Varied. Community. And impressive – and by this I mean that the opportunities you get here and the type of work you do is impressive. I don’t think I’d have had these opportunities anywhere else.

Surely all you could ask for is to be doing a job you like with work that’s really great and you love your colleagues – what more could you wish for?

The deadline to apply for Sintons’ graduate trainee programme is 31 March 2024. Find out more and apply here.

Undue influence in will making – the saga of Rea v Rea

The recent judgment in the long-running case of Rea v Rea [2024 EWCA Civ 169) handed down by the Court of Appeal on 23 February 2024, illustrates the uphill battle faced by those who try to challenge the validity of a will, without strong evidence in support of their position.

Grounds for challenging a will

For those who wish to challenge the validity of a will, there are a number of grounds on which a challenge can be made. These include:

  • Failure to comply with the required legal formalities of a will.
  • The testator (the individual making the will).lacking of testamentary capacity
  • The testator not knowing and approving of the contents of the will.
  • Undue influence over the testator by a third party.
  • Fraudulent calumny, or the ‘poisoning’ of the testator against an assumed beneficiary.
  • If the will itself is made by fraud or is a forgery.

Details of the case

In Rea v Rea, the Deceased prepared a will in 2015 which left her property (the most valuable asset in her estate) to her daughter, with the remainder of the estate split four ways between the daughter and her three brothers. The daughter was named as the sole executor of the deceased’s estate, and she applied for probate in 2016. Her three brothers, who claimed to have not known about the 2015 will during the deceased’s life time, brought a claim challenging the validity of the deceased’s will on several grounds. The principal ground they relied upon was that of undue influence.

Undue influence relates to whether a third party coerced a testator into making the will in question. For a claim of this kind, you must evidence that the third party coerced the testator to such an extent that their free will in making the will was wholly overwhelmed, and that the testator would not have made a will in the same terms, if it were not for the undue influence. The three brothers claimed that the deceased was subject to undue influence from her daughter, and this was the reason why the estate was not split equally between the four siblings.

The brothers’ claim went all the way to the High Court in 2019. Following a three day trial, the brothers’ claim that the 2015 will was invalid was dismissed. The brothers first appealed this decision in the High Court in 2021, which was also dismissed. However, the brothers’ second appeal to the Court of Appeal in 2022 was successful, as the Court of Appeal did not believe the daughter’s evidence had been sufficiently scrutinised. The claim was then readmitted to the High Court. In July 2023, the High Court found against the daughter, holding that there was sufficient evidence provided by the brothers that the deceased was subject to undue influence by the daughter. The Court then ordered that the 2015 will was invalid.

The High Court’s decision was then appealed by the daughter in the Court of Appeal in late 2023.

Outcome of the case and key findings

Ultimately, the Court of Appeal held in favour of the daughter, and overturned the High Court ruling of 2022, holding that the 2015 will was in fact valid. The Court of Appeal based this decision on the fact that the brothers had failed to prove the daughter had unduly influenced the deceased into preparing the 2015 will.

The key aspects of this tangled web of litigation, evidenced through the comments made by the judges in the final Court of Appeal hearing, relate to the evidence required for undue influence. The Court noted that although the daughter had a “forceful personality” and “forceful physical presence”, there was “no direct evidence of coercion” exerted by the daughter over the deceased. The Court also noted that the testator did not lack the requisite testamentary capacity to create the will, nor did she not know or approve of the terms, further illustrating their belief that 2015 will was in fact valid.

This evidences the high threshold set by the Court for cases of this kind, in that mere persuasion of a testator is not enough to evidence undue influence. In order to run a successful will challenge on the ground of undue influence, there must be sufficiently strong evidence that the testator was coerced to such an extent that the resulting will was not truly of the testator’s making. In the Court of Appeal’s opinion, the brothers failed to do this.

Our team at Sintons regularly assist our clients with will challenges. If you need advice in relation to challenging a will, or any other contentious probate matter, please contact us for specialist advice. Our team is happy to discuss any concerns you may have. You will find our contact details on our website at

Family law team appoints trainee legal executive

A new trainee legal executive has joined Sintonsfamily law team.

Chloe Bennett has worked in family law since 2017 and will support clients with issues relating to finances, separation and divorce, and arrangements relating to children.

Chloe is training to qualify as a legal executive and will continue her studies with the support of Sintons.

Louise Masters, partner and head of Sintons’ family law team, commented: “Our team members are not only legal experts, they’re also incredibly experienced at supporting people through what can be a difficult time for them.

“Chloe already has experience of assisting clients with sensitive legal matters and we’re looking forward to having her as part of the team, and supporting her to become a fully qualified legal executive.”

“I know that Sintons is a great place for trainees like me to further their legal careers,” said Chloe. “It’s a firm where people are given access to high quality training, are mentored by lawyers who are leaders in their fields and are able to make a real difference for clients at the same time.”

Sintons’ team of family lawyers work with clients in the North East and nationally and have been described by the Legal 500, which assesses and ranks law firms worldwide, as ‘knowledgeable and respected’.

Find out more here.

Future solicitor begins her career with Sintons

A future solicitor is taking up her first legal role, with Sintons.

Ellie Stannard will join the Court of Protection team as a paralegal before starting the firm’s programme for trainee solicitors in September 2025.

She graduated from Northumbria University with a first class honours degree in law and gained experience in family law while working on a pro-bono basis in the university’s Student Law Office.

Paul Nickalls, who leads Sintons’ personal and family law team, commented: “Sintons has a track record for attracting the brightest and the best graduates and Ellie is no exception.

“She already has experience of family law work, including knowledge of Court of Protection law, and I know she’ll be a valuable addition to our team.”

As a paralegal, Ellie will have a varied role, supporting Sintons’ solicitors and clients. She’ll then move on to become a trainee solicitor, completing Sintons’ graduate programme, which offers a two year training contract and the opportunity to work across a range of specialist areas of law.

Ellie said: “While I was studying, I worked in family law and I have personal experience of supporting people with life-changing injuries; this is an area of law which Sintons really excels in and I know I’ll be able to learn from the best lawyers in this field.

“Having spent the summer after graduating travelling in South East Asia, I’m back home in the North East and can’t wait to start my career.”

Sintons’ graduate programme is open for applications until 31 March 2024, giving graduates the opportunity to begin their careers in a top tier law firm. Find out more and apply here.

Buy to let purchases and company mortgages

It’s very common for investors to purchase properties to rent out to tenants. It’s worth remembering that if you are not purchasing a property to be your main residence, there are currently higher rates of stamp duty land tax to pay on your purchase, so you will need to factor in these costs before you decide if the investment is a good one.

When buying a property to let out, you must ensure that the Energy Performance Certificate for the property is valid and has a rating which is E or above. If the EPC does not have this rating then you won’t be able to let the property out until this has been rectified.

Your solicitor will check that there are no covenants or restrictions in relation to the property which would prevent you from using the property for your intended use. If the property is being used as a Home in Multiple Occupation then your solicitor will also check to make sure that all of the required permissions and licences for this use are in place.

Mortgage lenders have different products and criteria for buy to let applicants. Buy to let mortgage offers will include special conditions which set out the terms on which you can let the property, and it is very important that you read through these so that you know what is permitted and what the lender expects you to do. Most buy to let mortgages will stipulate that neither you nor any member of your family can live at the property or rent the property from you.

Your mortgage valuation is likely to contain a statement from the valuer or surveyor confirming the rental value of the property. You may want to have your own survey or valuation carried out to confirm that these rental estimates are correct.

If you decide to buy an investment property in a company name, your solicitor will need to obtain identification documents for all directors and shareholders of the company. Your solicitor will be acting on behalf of the company in relation to the purchase, and not for you in your individual capacity.

When a mortgage lender grants a buy to let mortgage to a company, they nearly always require the directors of the company to provide a personal guarantee. This is to cover the lender should the company go into administration, so they can still pursue the company directors personally for the debt. In order to sign a personal guarantee, you will need to obtain independent legal advice from another solicitor who can advise you in your personal capacity about what it is you are signing and the implications of it. The solicitor acting for the company in the purchase cannot advise you on the personal guarantee as there is a conflict of interests, they can’t advise the company in the purchase and advise you in giving a personal guarantee.

This can all take time, so if you are buying a property in a company name with the aid of a mortgage please factor in that you’re going to need to instruct another solicitor to provide you with independent legal advice and sign the guarantee forms. There will also be further legal costs to pay to the solicitor who provides you with the independent legal advice.

It is very important that any company mortgages are registered with Companies House immediately following completion. Your solicitor will deal with this for you, as there are strict timescales within which this has to be done.

Whenever you’re buying a property as an investment, make sure you do your homework before you start the process so that you know all of the costs and requirements involved, and you know that it is a good investment.

Suzanne Dixon is a Senior Associate in the residential conveyancing department at Sintons. To speak to Suzanne, please contact her at or 0191 226 7805.

Dispute resolution on separation to achieve a ‘clean break’

The recent publication of the Fair Shares Report provides findings on how the law works in practice for the divorcing population of England and Wales, and the extent to which it enables them to reach fair outcomes.

It would appear that, many divorcing couples are trying to resolve their financial situation between themselves, and could be entirely disadvantaged by a lack of financial and legal knowledge, not utilising the legal system which is designed to achieve fairness. With the team having decades of legal expertise, it is apparent that when advising one part or the other, they could perceive the proposed outcome as unfair.  This will be influenced by background, roles withing the family and the dynamics of the relationship.  One crucial point separating couples need to be aware of, is the importance of obtaining a legally binding order to determine and formalise the financial consequences of their divorce or dissolution.

The report states that around 100,000 couples end their marriage by divorce each year, however, statistics show that fewer than 40 per cent of divorcing couples will resolve their financial matters with a legally binding order. The relevance of this is important as it seems that many separating couples are unaware that not obtaining a legally binding order can leave their financial matters unresolved and ‘open’. This means both parties could make a claim against each other in the future.

Parties are highly encouraged to settle matters outside of court, and any agreement made can be taken to court to be formalised into a legally binding ‘consent order’. Along with this a Statement of Information form is also submitted which sets out the parties current financial circumstances and the proposed future arrangements.

Here are a few different modes of dispute resolution which can be utilised to help settle matters outside of court:-


Parties can negotiate matters with a neutral third party, who will facilitate the discussions between the parties. The third party mediator will not have authority to impose any decisions on the parties or be able to provide legal advice, allowing them to reach their own informed decisions.  It is crucial that legal advice is sought upon any mediated agreement.


A neutral third party family law professional is appointed by the parties to determine the issues and to make a binding decision on matters the parties are unable to agree on (in place of a judge). The parties agree to be bound by this decision which would be sent to court for ‘rubbing stamping’.

Collaborative law

This involves the parties signing a contact committing to resolving matters together with the help of a collaboratively trained lawyer each. Other professionals can also assist such as accountants or financial advisors.

Resolution together

A new constructive approach to family separation. This route allows couples to resolve matters by engaging one solicitor to work on a joint basis with both parties. The process encourages couples to manage their separation together which may minimise conflict.

Private FDR

This involves the parties hiring a neutral ‘judge’ (usually a family law barrister) to provide an evaluation of financial matters and the likely outcome. The Private FDR evaluator will provide an indication of a fair outcome, and will not impose a binding decision on the parties. This process has a very high success rate in resolving matters.

Alternatively, if agreement cannot be reached, then parties can issue court proceedings to obtain the assistance of the court.

If you would like some further advice on this subject matter, please do not hesitate to contact one of our family team on 0191 226 7878, or at

Residential conveyancing team expands with addition of new solicitor

Sintons’ residential conveyancing team is expanding, with the addition of a new solicitor, Zeshaan Mahmood

Zeshaan will support clients buying and selling all types of residential properties.

Anna Barton, Partner at Sintons, leads the residential conveyancing team and said: “Our expert team has a proven track record for delivering excellent service to our clients in the North East and nationwide.

“Zeshaan not only specialises in conveyancing but also has a background in banking, and I know he’ll play a key role as the team continues to grow.”

Zeshaan qualified as a solicitor in the North East and enjoys working with clients to support them through the conveyancing process.

He commented: “Sintons has an excellent reputation and the conveyancing department receives outstanding feedback from its clients, so I’m excited to start the new year by joining such a successful team and am looking forward to getting to know my colleagues and clients.”

Find out more about Zeshaan, and contact him, here.

Sintons’ team of conveyancing experts are on hand to support anyone who’s buying or selling a residential property. Find out more about them here.

Meanwhile, Sintons’ commercial real estate team is on hand to help clients with all aspects of commercial property law including acquisitions and disposals, portfolio management and development projects. 

Benefits of mediation

Sintons is proud to support Family Mediation Week 2024. This campaign aims to raise awareness about family mediation and the benefits it can bring to separating families.

Family mediation is a voluntary and confidential form of resolution. A neutral and impartial third party is appointed as the mediator to try and help the parties with negotiation regarding their dispute. The mediator helps to facilitate discussions between the parties, and assist the parties to reach their own informed decision. The mediator does not have authority to impose any decisions on the parties.

There are many benefits in attempting mediation. The mediator can act as a neutral third party person and adapt to different personalities of the parties with their negotiating style, to help to resolve any miscommunication that the parties may have. The mediation process is confidential meaning all discussions or documents produced in mediation cannot be disclosed unless the parties agree.

Further, during the mediation process the mediator meets with each party privately to discuss the problem confidentially. This provides a private forum in which the parties can gain better understanding of each other’s position, which can be helpful in working towards resolution. This allows the parties to have active participation in the process and control over their outcome, in comparison to court proceedings. Mediation can be cheaper than other dispute resolution processes, such as collaborative law or litigation, as the fees of a mediator are far less than the fees of a lawyer. Ultimately, mediation is an interest based process rather than a rights based process which can make it easier to preserve good relationships between the parties.

A mediated agreement however will require legal advice upon it.  A lawyer can help to formalise this agreement by way of a Court Order to make it binding.

These are some of the points to consider when choosing the mediation process. For anything further, one of our specialists would be delighted to meet you to talk through your options and answer any questions. Please contact us at any time.

CFA success fee in the context of Inheritance Act claims – Hirachand v Hirachand and Another

The Supreme Court has today, 18 January 2024, heard the appeal in relation to whether a success fee pursuant to a Conditional Fee Agreement (“CFA”) ought to be taken into account in determining the extent of a needs-based award for a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 (“Inheritance Act”) in the case of Hirachand v Hirachand and Another.

The appellant in this case is the widow of the Deceased, to whom the Deceased left his entire estate. The Deceased’s daughter, the respondent, did not receive anything from her father. The daughter therefore brought a claim against the estate under the Inheritance Act for reasonable financial provision for her maintenance.

In order to bring her claim, the daughter entered into a CFA with her legal representatives. A success fee of £48,175 is payable to her solicitors if the daughter is successful in her claim.

Whilst a successful party is generally able to recover part of their legal costs from the losing party, success fees cannot be recovered by way of a costs order by virtue of section 58A(6) Courts and Legal Services Act 1990. In this case, therefore, the daughter would be responsible for the payment of the success fee.

An issue before the Court in the first instance was, having decided that the deceased had indeed failed to make reasonable financial provision to the daughter, whether the daughter’s liability to pay the success fee should be considered part of her “financial needs” when assessing the Inheritance Act award.

An award made pursuant to the Inheritance Act is needs-based, which means that the extent of the award is limited to what “would be reasonable in all the circumstances of the case for the applicant to receive for [her] maintenance”, as set out in section 1(2)(b) of the Inheritance Act. “Financial needs” is left undefined. The Supreme Court has ruled previously in the case of Ilott v Blue Cross and Others (No 2) [2018] AC 545 that financial needs can include liability for a debt.

The judge in the first instance decision decided that the success fee could be included because “If [he does not] make such an allowance one or more of [daughter]’s primary needs will not be met. The liability cannot be recovered as part of any costs award from other parties. The liability is that of [the daughter] alone. She had no other means of funding the litigation.” The judge recognised that some potential injustice might be caused to the daughter or the estate should he decide the matter either way. In seeking to mitigate this potential injustice, the judge allowed £16,750 as recognition of the daughter’s liability for the success fee.

The widow appealed to the Court of Appeal. The issue to be determined by the Court of Appeal was whether the judge was correct to include as part of the overall award a sum by reference to the success fee in exercising his discretion to determine a needs-based award.

The Court of Appeal ([2021] EWCA Civ 1498) held that a success fee, which cannot be recovered by way of a costs order, can be regarded as a debt, and hence the liability to repay it can form part of a financial need. The taking into account of a success fee is, however, limited to situations where the only way the claimant could litigate was by entering into a CFA and thus incurring a success fee. Furthermore, the basis on which an award is determined is still by reference to “reasonable provision”. The Court made a distinction between simply including in the award the amount or a percentage of the success fee payable, effectively discharging the whole or part of debt for the claimant, and only taking into account this liability for the success fee as an element of the claimant’s financial needs. It is the latter that was the Court of Appeal’s decision.

The widow further appealed to the Supreme Court which is being heard today. It is expected that judgment will be reserved to be handed down in the near future. Contentious probate practitioners and potential parties to Inheritance Act claims will be watching with interest.

Sharon Siu is a Solicitor in our Contentious Probate team at Sintons. If you have any questions regarding this article, you can contact her on 0191 226 3654 or

Buying a home with a septic tank: what you need to know

Many homes and properties in rural areas come fitted with septic tanks. Sarah Ellis, from Sintonsconveyancing team, explains some of the regulations that you’ll need to know about if you’re considering buying a home with a septic tank.

If you have ever dreamed of escaping the rat race and moving to the country you may find yourself in love with a property that has a septic tank. What does this really mean for you as a homeowner though?

Essentially you would be purchasing a property which is not connected to mains sewage. Instead, sewage is discharged either to a sole or shared septic tank and, in most cases, the liquid waste is eventually released into a drain field – an underground network of trenches and perforated pipes.

You need to be aware of the need to regularly empty most tanks of the grease and solid matter and have regular maintenance carried out, which is an extra cost in the running of your home.

And as a homeowner, you also need to know about the regulations relating to septic tanks.

In January 2015 the government brought in new rules which relate to septic tanks, the way they discharge, their repair and suitability, in an effort to further reduce pollution. If your septic tank does not comply with the rules then you will need to either:

  1. connect to the main sewage (if possible);
  2. upgrade their tanks to ensure compliance; or
  3. obtain an environmental permit.

You can find a copy of the rules on, and it is worth noting these rules updated again on 2 October 2023.

As solicitors acting for a purchaser of a property with a septic tank it is important we ask for confirmation that the type of tank installed complies with the necessary rules.

There are different rules for existing discharges, new discharges or discharges which have significantly changed, and we can help you to understand which apply to you.

For example, existing discharges are those which started prior to 1 January 2015, whereas there are additional rules for new discharges which started on or after 1 January 2015, or those discharges which significantly changed in nature on or after 1 January 2015 (for example, the type of discharge changed from ground to surface or vice versa, or there was a relocation or increase in discharge).

For any new discharges starting on or after 2 October 2023 two further rules also apply:

  1. A new discharge shall not use the same outlet as any other discharge if the volume of those combined discharges will exceed the volume (two cubic meters of less per day for ground water systems or five cubic meters or less per day for surface water systems)
  2. A new discharge will not be made to any discharge point within 50 meters of any other exempt ground water activity or water discharge activity.

If you’re buying a property with a septic tank it is important to factor in potential extra costs – like the cost of bringing the tank and system up to the required standard; the cost of applying for a permit; or the cost of having the tank checked by a surveyor to confirm that it satisfies the criteria for exemption and to ensure the tank and system is good working condition and repair. If the tank is not in good repair and causing pollution you could face enforcement action by the Environment Agency.

Along with the rest of Sintons’ conveyancing team, I work with people to make sure they understand the rules relating to septic tanks and I can also help make sure you have all necessary rights in connection with the tank where it, or parts of the system, are not solely within your boundary and ownership.

Are you considering buying a house with a septic tank? Get in touch with Sintons’ conveyancing team to find out how we can help you.

New addition to Sintons’ personal and family law team

A probate specialist with international experience has joined Sintons’ team of personal and family law specialists.

Sharon Siu, who practised as a barrister in Hong Kong before qualifying as a solicitor in England and Wales, is the latest addition to the team, which supports clients with all aspects of personal and family law, from buying and selling residential properties to dealing with wills, trusts and probate.

Sharon specialises in contentious probate, which includes challenges to wills and disputes relating to trusts and estates – an area where Sintons has recently been ranked as amongst the best in the country.

Emma Saunders, partner at Sintons and head of contentious probate, explained: “We are named as a tier one firm in the area of contentious probate by the recent Legal 500 2024, which evaluates firms’ work based on impartial research.

“We’re pleased to welcome Sharon to the team and I know her experience will strengthen our offer even further.”

Sharon Siu commented: “Sintons really spans the breadth of personal and family law, alongside its services for businesses.

“I’m looking forward to being part of a team which can often measure the length of its relationships with its clients in decades rather than years and which has earned a reputation for providing the highest standard of legal advice for generations of people in the North East.”

Find out more about the range of services offered by Sintons’ personal and family team here.

‘Pathfinder’ Courts – a new problem solving approach to Court proceedings involving children and Domestic Abuse

The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 brought a cultural change in how cases, involving children which have an element of domestic abuse, should be dealt with at court. However, there are still no major reforms in terms of how domestic abuse victims are protected within the court process.

We know that sometimes, Court Proceedings can be issued by a parent, wishing to engage in “Lawfare”, as another form of domestic abuse against their ex-partner.

A  worrying problems is the way ‘harm’ is treated within family proceedings. A significant development within recent years is the publication of the Ministry of Justice expert panel report – ‘Harm Report’ 2020. This report recommends the need for financial investment throughout the family justice system and the need for a ‘trauma-base’ approach to cases involving domestic abuse to improve victim support.

What we know is that trauma impacts the brain significantly, it can often cause mental health issues such as anxiety, depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and it is important that this impact is recognised within the court process for what it actually is.

A successful pilot was  launched, from the issues highlighted in the ‘Harm Report’  – ‘Pathfinder’ courts.

Pathfinder courts

There are only two Pathfinder courts in the UK, one based in North Wales and the other in Dorset. The aim of these courts is to enhance support for victims of domestic abuse by taking a more ‘investigative, multi-agency and problem solving approach’. This is done by sharing information between the court, local authorities and the police, to improve information sharing. It includes domestic abuse professionals sharing their risk assessments with the court so that parties experiencing trauma do not have to relive these events by repeating them at court.

Pathfinder courts promote a less adversarial approach to proceedings to minimise confrontation in the courtroom, and emphasise addressing the allegations of domestic abuse and other harmful behaviours.

These pilots will help safeguard victims of domestic abuse so they are not further traumatised by the court process and that better decisions are made about them and their children’s lives.

The recommendations made in the ‘Harm Report’, regarding Pathfinder courts require longer term development to run these new ideas. If these pilots are successful, there could be more Pathfinder courts across England and Wales, revolutionising the family justice system.

Jo Scott is a Senior Associate in the Family team at Sintons, to speak to Jo, you can contact her on or 0191 226 7870.

Is Family Law in need of reform?

According to Resolution, which is a membership body representing 6,500 family justice professionals, the family justice system is at a crucial turning point.

Across the country, practitioners, including solicitors at Sintons, are supporting families dealing with issues like divorce and separation, arrangements for children and financial disputes, both in and out of the court process.

We are hampered by a combination of factors, to include out of date statutes, and the family courts being massively overstretched, resulting in significant delays for the people trying to access it.

It is fair to say that whilst the make-up of family life in England and Wales has changed, our laws have not kept pace.

Resolution has recently launched a paper setting out their vision for change which includes recognising that the law in relation to cohabiting partners on separation needs to be reformed. Cohabiting couples currently have very little legal protection when they separate and it is proposed that cohabitants who meet certain criteria, indicating they are in a committed relationship, would have a right to apply for certain financial remedy orders if they separated.

Resolution supports all types of family formations being recognised in law. The social realities of children and families who fall outside the scope of the law needs to be met with an appropriate legal reality. The surrogacy laws are also in need of reform.

Resolution suggests and supports more public funding for early legal information and advice. The solicitors at Sintons will always support clients receiving early information, early signposting and will always be ready to discuss dispute resolution options, when couples separate.

Resolution also suggests that co-parenting programme should happen earlier, and rather than couples being forced to attend a mediation information meeting, they should alternatively have access to broader and more rounded advice on options, processes and their legal rights and responsibilities. The Advice and Information Meetings (AIM’s) should always take place early in the process before any application to the court is considered

Much more needs to be done to support and protect victims of domestic abuse in the family courts, and whilst it is agreed that the recognition of domestic abuse in the court process has come a long way, there is still a long way ahead.

Finally, Resolution suggests that family law needs to be fit for purpose.

Hopefully in time, family law will more adequately reflect the current  society in which we live. Given the current anomalies and difficulties, it is often vital that separating couples resolve their differences constructively by agreement, to ensure their respective settlements reflect their particular requirements. As dispute resolution specialists, the Family Team at Sintons  can discuss at a very early stage, the available and appropriate process options when couples separate. This will  ensure that despite the deficiencies  of the current legal system, clients are immediately signposted towards the most appropriate way to resolve all  issues that arise when a relationship comes to an end.

Cohabiting couples and pension entitlement

Cohabiting couples are the biggest growing family type in the UK. This has not always been the case, and is perhaps why the legislation that applies to married couples is very different to the legislation that applies to couples living together.

It is commonly accepted, but not may be commonly known, that cohabiting couples have far less protection under the law, if they separate and need to resolve financial matters with each other.

In view of this, Resolution, a membership organisation for family Justice professionals who are committed to a non-confrontational approach, to resolving family disputes, are using Awareness Week (27 November to 1 December) to focus on the need for cohabitation reform

One of the most difficult areas separating cohabiting couples face, is the tricky issue of pensions. If you are married, and separate, one of the orders the court can make as part of resolving financial matters in divorce proceedings, is a share in the pension of your spouse.

If you are a cohabiting partner, of either opposite or same sex, it may be possible for you to receive a survivor’s pension on your partners death, but only if certain and very strict criteria are met.

You are not entitled to make a claim on their pension, when you separate, which may result in one of you being financially penalised, by virtue of not being married.

It is thought that women are hardest affected by the lack of legislation surrounding cohabiting couples.

Therefore, it is often advisable for couples who are cohabiting to discuss their financial arrangements not only whilst they are living together but in the very unfortunate event of their separation. Whilst those discussions are difficult to navigate sometimes, they can help focus on what the financial landscape might look like for both, in the event of a separation.

Once those discussions have taken place, it is recommended that an agreement is drafted, reflecting the outcome of the discussions.

The experienced family team at Sintons are able to provide advice and information to one party or indeed both, should  a couple need to consider their financial circumstances both now and in the future.

Vision for Family Justice

Having been a family lawyer for over 30 years, I have experienced major changes in the way that family law has evolved, both in relation to the law itself and the options separating clients now have, to resolve issues arising from their separation.

In terms of the law, when I first qualified, the Children’s Act had just come into force, giving us terms such as contact and residence, in place of custody and access. As with many positive changes, language can create unintended difficulties and the terms contact and residence, whilst an improvement on access and custody, created for some sense of imbalance and unfairness. With further changes having taken place, now, if the court make an order in relation to children, they will use terms such as “live with” and “spend time with”. It would be right to say that historically, mothers held far more of a sway in how often and indeed whether fathers could spend time with their children. The court’s view has hugely shifted in this respect and now take the position that, where possible, children should have a relationship with both of their parents, whatever form that relationship may take.

Financial matters were usually resolved by a long winded, meander towards a final hearing, whereas now, if an application is made to the court, the court issue a very strict timetable which must be adhered to.

The biggest change however is the introduction of the no fault divorce, where clients no longer have to prove the irretrievable breakdown of their marriage, using terms such as adultery and unreasonable behaviour. Couples can in fact submit a joint application should they wish to do so, again another huge change from the previous archaic position and terms.

If asked however what I consider the biggest change over the last 30 years that I have been in practice, I would say that it would be the many and various dispute resolution process options that clients can now use to resolve outstanding issues after separation. Those options are specifically designed to keep people away from the court process.

Mediation is perhaps the most known alternative to court, but collaborative law, arbitration, private financial dispute resolution hearings and the recently developed resolution together, are all options separating couples can use to keep them outside of the court process.

What the law (and those of us who practice in it have had to) has had to deal with the ever-changing make-up of our families. Cohabiting couples are the fastest growing family type in the UK. Whilst of course separating cohabiting families can use any of the dispute resolution options above, the same as married couples can, the legislation protecting cohabiting couples is woeful, disjointed and is in need of major reform. Resolution, a community of family justice professionals who work with families and individuals to resolve issues in a constructive way are highlighting this in their awareness week , “vision for family justice”.

I have had the privilege of working collaboratively with Louise Masters and Elizabeth Gallagher, training with Resolution to qualify in practice as a mediator and recently trained and qualified through Resolution as a resolution together specialist.

As families and their make-up continue to evolve, as must the law and the way family law professionals continue to meet the needs of ever-changing family structures.

Here at Sintons, a team of Resolution trained and qualified family law professionals are able to talk you through options upon separation, with the team continuing to qualify and embrace new ways of working to meet the ever-changing needs of their clients.

Jo Scott is a Senior Associate in the Family team at Sintons, to speak to Jo, you can contact her on or 0191 226 7870.

Sintons lawyers shortlisted for regional awards

Sintons has been shortlisted in the Legal 500 Northern Powerhouse Awards, which recognise the best legal talent in the North, based on independent research.

Two members of the Personal and Family law team have been nominated for awards: Emma Saunders, partner, has been shortlisted as Private Client Lawyer of the Year and Emelie Rowell, solicitor, has been shortlisted as Private Client Rising Star of the Year.

Emma Saunders has previously been listed as a leading individual in the Legal 500 2023 and 2024 guides and, before that, was named as a rising star in 2020, 2021 and 2022. She specialises in contentious probate, supporting clients through disputes such as will challenges, removals of executors and disputes relating to property.

One of Emma’s clients described her support, saying: “Emma Saunders has been excellent across all aspects of the advice and action I have needed, at what has been the most difficult time of my life.

“She has expertly guided me through all aspects of the situation I have found myself in and the possibilities to ensure I fully understand the options available and their implications. Her attention to detail is incredibly reassuring. She has represented my interests decisively and unequivocally and it has helped me navigate an incredibly difficult and distressing situation with dignity.”

Emelie Rowell also specialises in contentious probate and has also been named in previous Legal 500 publications, with the 2023 and 2024 guides listing her as a key individual and quoting a client as saying:

“I have felt I have received a highly expert, personalised service from Sintons from the moment Emma Saunders answered the phone on my first enquiry. Together with Emelie Rowell they have delivered the most cost effective advice and solutions at each stage, taking into account all the factors at play to arrive at the best way forward in my dispute. I am very glad I chose Sintons to assist me.”

Christopher Welch, Sintons managing partner, said: “The fact that these awards are based entirely on market-leading, independent research into the best law firms across the North makes it even more valuable for our team’s work to be recognised in this way.

“We aim to set the standard for legal excellence and the proof of that is in both the testimonies of our clients, and in the type of rigorous, impartial evaluation which the Legal 500 carries out.”

Find out more about Emma Saunders here and find out more about Emelie Rowell here.

Sintons supports Awareness Week 2023 in conjunction with Resolution

Sintons is once again lending its support to Awareness Week, which this year highlights the need for cohabitation reform.

Resolution, a community of family justice professionals who aim to resolve family law issues in a constructive way are aiming to highlight the lack of protection cohabiting couples have when separating and are campaigning for change. Awareness week 2023 runs this year from November 27th to December 1st.

Sintons – whose family team comprises of experienced, qualified resolution specialists and is independently rated as one of the leading teams in the North of England – are holding a number of events throughout the week in support of Awareness Week and its message.

Keep an eye out on social media and our website for more information.

Three Sintons lawyers named in Business Today’s Lawyer Awards 2023

Three of Sintons’ lawyers have been named in Business Today’s Lawyer Awards 2023.

Tom Wills, Paul Nickalls and Paul Collingwood have all been listed in this year’s round-up of leading names in legal practice.

Tom Wills, who is partner and head of agriculture and estates at Sintons, is named amongst the top 10 agricultural lawyers who are shaping the North East’s rural affairs.

Business Today describes Tom as “exhibiting strong professional acumen,” and says that he has “earned recognition for acting for landowners and developers on complex transactions.”

Tom specialises in legal issues affected rural and agricultural businesses including landlord and tenant law, development and agri-environment schemes. He has acted on a number of wind farm and open cast coal projects in the North East and on the registration and transfer of mineral, manorial and sporting rights.

In Business Today’s Private Wealth Law category, both Paul Nickalls and Paul Collingwood are named in the top 10 private wealth lawyers in Newcastle.

Paul Nickalls is partner in Sintons’ personal and family team and is an expert in the administration of estates, including those with business assets, agricultural land and foreign property. He advises some of the region’s wealthiest individuals and is regularly appointed by the Court of Protection as a professional deputy in relation to vulnerable clients.

Business Today says: “Praised for his congeniality and dedication, he delivers consistently for his clients.”

Also listed in the top 10 private wealth lawyers is Paul Collingwood, partner in Sintons’ personal and family department. Paul advises clients on preparation of wills, he advises on succession planning and inheritance tax for business owners and he prepares lasting powers of attorney. Paul is experienced in preparing personal injury trusts and other lifetime trusts and in advising trustees on their role.

Business Today describes Paul as being “praised for his supportive nature and the excellent rapport he builds with his clients.”

Christopher Welch, Sintons managing partner, said: “I’m proud that we are consistently shown to have the industry’s leading lawyers here at Sintons. Our clients can be confident that they’re working with the best in the business.”

Find out more about Sintons’ services for agricultural and rural businesses here, and about Sintons’ personal and family team, which includes private wealth specialists, here.

Joint Ownership

If you are purchasing a property in joint names then you have a choice as to how you own it. The two options are either joint tenants or tenants in common. Up to four people can be recorded on the legal title for a property as being the registered proprietors.

When you own a property as joint tenants it means that you each own the whole of the property. There are no shares, and if one of you should pass away then the property would automatically become the property of the survivor or survivors. This means that you can’t leave your ownership of the property to anyone else in your Will.

A joint tenancy can be changed later by one party giving notice to the other party or parties that they wish to sever the joint tenancy.  This would have the effect of the owners becoming tenants in common.

The second option is to hold the property as tenants in common. This means that you each own a notional share of the property. If one of you should pass away then that person’s share in the property would pass according to their Will (or if there is no Will, the Intestacy Rules). If you choose this option, it’s really important that you put a Will in place to set out your wishes on who should inherit your share of the property.

When you hold a property as tenants in common, you don’t have to own the property equally, i.e. 50/50. You can own it in different shares, for example 60/40 or 70/30, and you can specify how much one party has contributed and how the proceeds of sale should be distributed.

If you decide to own the property as tenants in common in unequal shares, you should speak to a solicitor about putting in place a Declaration of Trust which will formalise and document your intentions.

Suzanne Dixon is a Senior Associate in the residential conveyancing department at Sintons. To speak to Suzanne, please contact her at or 0191 226 7805.

A live Q&A with Sintons’ Family team – Episode 19

In episode 19 of our monthly live Q&A sessions with Sintons’ family team, solicitor Ifi Archibong answers three of your family related questions. Just a reminder that these sessions have come about due to the volume of questions we received for our live Q&A session during the recent Good Divorce Week. We weren’t able to answer anywhere near the questions we received and we thought these sessions would therefore be a great idea. Moving forward we are going to be running them at 10am on the third Friday of each month, live, on Teams.

Please click on the play button in the bottom left corner of the below video image to start viewing.


We have also included a podcast version, the link is also below.

Capacity in family proceedings

Solicitor, Hannah Mitchell from our Court of Protection team and Solicitor, Ifi Archibong from the Family team at Sintons recently recorded a podcast, concentrating on ‘Capacity in family proceedings’.

Please click below to listen to the podcast.

Sintons once again wins praise from Legal 500 2024

Sintons has again confirmed its position as one of the leading law firms in the North of England with the release of Legal 500 2024, which highlights the expertise and client service excellence delivered by departments and key individuals across the business.

Newcastle-based Sintons has won praise across the firm for the high levels of legal advice and personal service it delivers, and it is highlighted in four key practice areas as being leaders in its field in the North of England, and being recommended in 15 others.

A total of 48 lawyers are recommended for their standout practice in their respective fields, with fifteen of its lawyers hailed as leading individuals, which comprises experts in their field from across the North. Head of licensing Sarah Smith maintains her place in the Legal 500 Hall of Fame, in recognition of being a leading individual consistently for more than a decade.

A further four are named as next generation partners, and four hailed as rising stars.

While Sintons has for many years continually been named by Legal 500 as one of the key law firms in the North, its rankings for 2024 show the firm’s ongoing growth and progress, with gains made in many key practice areas.

Newly released for 2024, Legal 500 is based on extensive research into law firms throughout the UK, with its independent findings based on examples of work, client and peer testimonials and interviews.

In Legal 500 2024, Sintons is named as a top tier firm in:

Its leading individuals have been named as:

Next generation partners have been hailed as:

Rising stars are:

Christopher Welch, managing partner of Sintons, says: “This is a phenomenal and very well deserved assessment of our performance as a firm. We are ranked as leaders in our field in several key practice areas, with Legal 500 rightly recognising the huge capability and expertise we have here, and the progress we continue to make.

“Sintons is all about our people, and to see so many recognised for the outstanding efforts they make on behalf of our clients is fantastic news. We have excellence running throughout the business, in all areas of our work, and our team are all absolutely committed to delivering the best possible service and outcomes to our clients.”

A live Q&A with Sintons’ Family team – Episode 18

In episode 18 of our monthly live Q&A sessions with Sintons’ family team, solicitor Ifi Archibong answers three of your family related questions. Just a reminder that these sessions have come about due to the volume of questions we received for our live Q&A session during the recent Good Divorce Week. We weren’t able to answer anywhere near the questions we received and we thought these sessions would therefore be a great idea. Moving forward we are going to be running them at 10am on the third Friday of each month, live, on Teams.

Please click below to listen to the podcast.

Contentious probate team strengthens at Sintons

The contentious probate offering at Sintons has been strengthened further with the addition of a new member of the team.

Marcus Hannon joins as a newly qualified solicitor where he will be dealing with contentious probate and trust disputes, as well as Court of Protection disputes.

The team, led by partner Emma Saunders, has grown significantly in the past few years, with instructions now coming from across the UK and Sintons being tasked with handling highly complex, high value disputes.

“The growth of the contentious probate team has been significant in the recent past, with Sintons now being regarded as a leading name in this very specialist area of work in the North of England,” says Marcus.

“I am very pleased to be part of it and to have the opportunity to join Sintons.”

Emma Saunders, regularly hailed as one of the leading contentious trust and probate specialists by Legal 500 and Chambers alike, says: “We are delighted that Marcus has become part of the team. Our contentious trust and probate offering has grown very strongly nationally, and we are very proud of the reputation we continue to build for our legal expertise alongside the quality of client service.

“Adding Marcus enhances our capability even further. We look forward to working alongside him to help take our ambitions forward further still.”

Sintons adds five new aspiring solicitors to its team

Law firm Sintons has continued its commitment to supporting the next generation of legal talent by recruiting its latest round of aspiring lawyers.

Sintons has added four new graduate trainees to its ranks, as well as a new solicitor apprentice who will embark on the North East Solicitor Apprenticeship (NESA) course towards qualification.

Corina Dias, Jessica Fields, William Chapman and Anthony May all join Sintons as trainee solicitors, selected from scores of applicants to undertake the two-year training programme, which will see them gain experience in a number of practice areas ahead of qualification.

In their first seats, which will last for six months, Corina will join the Employment team; Jessica will be in Neurotrauma; and William and Anthony will join the Real Estate department.

Faith Ramsay becomes Sintons’ latest solicitor apprentice, and will be supported for the next six years through the NESA programme – of which Sintons was a founder member – comprising legal experience and part-time academic study at Northumbria University.

She will begin her training at Sintons in the Dispute Resolution department.

Sintons’ existing trainees – who are in their second and final year of training – will also move seats from September as their development continues.

Lucy Milnthorp moves to Dispute Resolution; Charles Bell joins Construction & Engineering; and Edward Pattinson moves to Wills, Trusts and Probate.

Solicitor apprentices Saffron Sinclair will move to Corporate, Sabrina Jackland will join Residential Conveyancing and Sophie Lemon will remain in Wills, Trusts and Probate.

The addition of five new people – and ongoing development of its existing trainees – continues Sintons’ longstanding commitment to offering opportunities to the next generation of legal professionals, investing in their training and development and delivering supervision and support from lawyers who are leaders in their field regionally and nationally.

Christopher Welch, managing partner of Sintons, says: “At Sintons, we are committed to offering opportunities to outstanding legal talent throughout their time at Sintons. Investing in the progression and development of our team is absolutely fundamental to what we do here, and in how we value and recognise the people who make Sintons what it is.

“Our long track record in supporting lawyers through training contracts, and more recently apprenticeships, is something we are very proud of. Several of our senior lawyers in the firm began their careers at Sintons as trainees, which speaks volumes about the quality of our training and the ethos of the firm as a place to build a highly successful career.

“We welcome Corina, Jessica, William, Anthony and Faith to Sintons, and will support them with the highest quality of training and development from day one. Best of luck to Lucy, Charles, Edward, Saffron, Sabrina and Sophie as they continue to build their careers and advance the excellence progress they have already made during their time with us.”

Can I lose Parental Responsibility for my children?

What is Parental Responsibility (PR)

Parental Responsibility (PR) means all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority that a parent of a child has in relation to the child (section 3(1), Children Act 1989 (CA 1989)).  This could include making decisions about the child’s accommodation, education and medical treatment.

If a child’s parents are married or in a civil partnership with each other when the child is born, both of them automatically have PR (section 2(1), CA 1989).

If the parents are not married or in a civil partnership with each other when the child is born, only the mother automatically has PR.

The father can acquire PR if he:-

  • Is registered as the child’s father on the child’s birth certificate;
  • marries the mother or enters into a civil partnership with her;
  • enters into a PR agreement with the mother;
  • obtains a court order giving him PR;
  • becomes the child’s guardian; or
  • adopts the child.

Discharging of parental responsibility

In the English law there is no provision for a mother’s PR to be discharged.

There is disparity in the law with regards to married and unmarried fathers and their PR.

PR that is acquired by virtue of a father being married to the child’s mother when the child is born (under section 2 of the CA 1989) cannot be extinguished, whereas an unmarried father’s PR can be.

An unmarried father can lose PR if:-

  • the child is adopted;
  • a court decides to terminate the PR because an application for discharging the PR has been made;
  • a court cancels a special order that gave you PR.

Someone with PR for the child or the child itself can apply to discharge PR, in these circumstances.

Applications to discharge PR are the exception rather than the norm and are only ordered when it is necessary to protect the child and family from serious emotional and physical harm.

The disparity between married and unmarried fathers and PR is demonstrated in the recent case of F v M (Rev1) [2023] EWFC 5 where findings were made of coercive and controlling behaviour by the father, who was described as a ‘profoundly dangerous young man’. The father automatically had PR for his children as he was married to their mother, when the children were born.

He was considered so dangerous to the children, the only exposure he was permitted to them was one letter to the children per year.  The general consensus was that if the father had acquired PR but he wasn’t married at the time of the birth, then it should be revoked.

The Judge in this case expressed his discomfort about the anomaly between married and unmarried fathers and PR, but accepted that the children could be protected by the use of certain court orders.

He said, although the “legal status of a married father remains intact…it can be stripped of any potency to reach into the lives of the mother and children… thus adversely impacting his ability to affect the welfare of either”.

Ultimately, it is important to note that PR is very important and whether you automatically acquire it or need to take active steps to do so, it is something that each and every parent should have for all of their individual children.

Should you have any doubt over whether you have PR for your children or not, please get in touch for expert advice.

A live Q&A with Sintons’ Family team – Episode 17

In episode 17 of our monthly live Q&A sessions with Sintons’ family team, solicitor Ifi Archibong answers three of your family related questions. Just a reminder that these sessions have come about due to the volume of questions we received for our live Q&A session during the recent Good Divorce Week. We weren’t able to answer anywhere near the questions we received and we thought these sessions would therefore be a great idea. Moving forward we are going to be running them at 10am on the third Friday of each month, live, on Teams.

Please click on the play button in the bottom left corner of the below video image to start viewing.


We have also included a podcast version, the link is also below.

Is a pre-marital agreement worth it?

One of the main queries we receive in relation to these increasingly common instructions, is are they worth it? The aim of this article is to explain the pros and cons to help you decide.

The pros

Clarity and certainty

Parties entering into this agreement can make it clear to one another which assets belong to whom and which assets will not be shared during the marriage or upon a future divorce. This should save both parties the uncertainty, cost and stress of litigating the matter at a later stage.


As parties are required to provide financial disclosure of their assets and income, both parties have transparency from the outset which should help them navigate the marriage in a better and more informed way.

Similarly you can plan what you intend to do in the marriage. If one party during the marriage gives up a potentially lucrative career to care for the family, that person should be entitled to a greater share of the assets on the breakdown of the marriage to reflect their loss of earning power going forward. It is often difficult to convince the court to award an element of “compensation” for loss of career in normal circumstances, but provision for compensation in the pre-marital agreement is likely to be upheld by the court.


Parties can seek to protect certain assets such as inherited assets or family heirlooms and gifts, which may otherwise be taken into account on divorce, with no pre-marital agreement in place.


A pre-marital agreement provides you with the freedom to agree your own terms without the court imposing a solution on you.

The cons

Whilst significant weight is currently being placed upon pre-marital agreements which are entered into properly, it may not necessarily be binding and the court retains jurisdiction.

It may also seem very unromantic to consider and negotiate a pre-marital agreement at a time when you are in love and planning your wedding or civil partnership. Preparing for a marriage can be stressful, and the added pressure of considering financial issues and negotiating the terms of a pre-marital agreement can put strain on a relationship, as can be seen in the recent case of MN v AN [2023].

Ultimately, pre-marital agreements can be very beneficial if entered into correctly. A pre-marital agreement is crucial in a case with significant wealth but can also be worthwhile in the more modest family wherein one party may have received an inheritance or gift from a family member.

Divorce can be unpredictable at the best of times, and acrimonious litigation is always a risk. Having a pre-marital agreement in place can mean less is left to chance.

If you would like some further advice on this subject matter, please do not hesitate to contact one of our family team on 0191 226 7878, or at

Private Financial Dispute Resolution Appointment (PFDR)

What is an FDR?

A Financial Dispute Resolution Appointment is usually the second hearing listed when an application is made to Court to resolve the finances on divorce or civil partnership dissolution.

The purpose of the hearing is to encourage and assist the parties to reach a settlement. The Judge will not make a final or binding decision on behalf of the parties. Instead, they will provide an indication or guidance as to what that particular Judge feels is a fair outcome. The Judge will remind parties of the money they have spent on legal costs and experts and urge the parties to bring the matter to a conclusion by reaching an agreement.

What is a Private FDR?

An alternative is to opt for a Private FDR which is an alternative dispute resolution method and takes place outside of Court. Both parties will agree on which professional will consider the matter (this is usually a solicitor, senior barrister or retired judge); the parties will pay privately for the services and the ‘hearing’ will take place at a much more comfortable and informal venue than a Court room such as a conference room.

Like an FDR at Court, the PFDR ‘Judge’ hearing the case will not make a binding decision. Instead they provide a clear view about a fair outcome.

The benefits of choosing a Private FDR

  • The parties can choose their own process including, as mentioned above, which professional they will engage to ‘hear’ the case. A solid and helpful indication from a chosen professional who you have paid for can be the difference between a settlement being reached and the case finalised or not.
  • Court resources are extremely stretched meaning that the process can take between 12-24 months. Having legal representation throughout the proceedings can also be expensive so opting for a Private FDR can be significantly more time and cost effective.
  • You can choose the location and time of the Private FDR. This means the matter can be heard in a much more informal setting and can also be arranged outside of normal office hours. If both parties feel more comfortable this can make it more likely that they will be able to reach a settlement.
  • You do not have to go to the expense of an FDR and a PFDR. If you choose the PFDR, then the FDR in proceedings can be bypassed.

The disadvantages of choosing a Private FDR

  • The parties will have to pay for the services of engaging a professional for the Private FDR.  However investing in the process in this way, will make parties much more focused to reach an agreement.
  • If you are unable to reach a settlement at the PFDR, then the case will need to be referred back to Court who will then list the matter for final hearing.

Private FDRs are becoming more popular for various reasons for parties resolving finances on divorce. If you are seeking to resolve matters as swiftly as possible, this can be a great option to consider. If you would like any further information about Private FDRs, please do not hesitate to contact a member of our family team at

Auction Properties and Legal Packs

Selling properties by way of auction is growing ever more popular and as a buyer, it is important that you understand what you are bidding on before committing to the purchase.

Every property listed for auction should have a legal pack available prior to the auction. This legal pack will include the title to the property, property information forms, fittings and contents forms (where available), searches and any other documents of relevance to the property.

If you are keen to bid on a property it is important you have this pack checked by your legal advisor. Having this pack checked prior to bidding will give your solicitor the opportunity to highlight any potential issues before you tie yourself into an auction contract which may have affected your decision to proceed. If you were to  withdraw after you sign the contract, you could lose any auction fees paid on the day and potentially incur additional financial penalties

Some of the things we will check for and advise you on, are: –

  1. Title defects, for example the property not being properly registered or some part of the property or land not being included in the boundary;
  2. Potential breaches of restrictive covenants or covenants which may affect your future plans for the property such as a restriction on alterations;
  3. Issues with known works not having the correct planning or building regulation sign off;
  4. Issues revealed in the searches, such as unadopted roads, enforcement notices or planning restrictions.

As a seller it is important to include as much relevant information as you can in the auction pack, including (but not limited to): –

  1. Planning permissions and building regulation completion certificates;
  2. Any covenant consents;
  3. Boiler and electrical installation certificates and servicing records;
  4. HETAS, FENSA and any other installation certificates; and
  5. Any valid guarantees.

Being as organised and providing as much information as you can, will give your buyer greater confidence in bidding on your property.

Sarah Ellis is a Legal Executive in the residential conveyancing department at Sintons. To speak to Sarah, please contact her at or 0191 226 7924.

Mortgage Offers

In the seventeenth of our ‘Understanding Residential Conveyancing‘ podcast series, Senior Associate Suzanne Dixon discusses ‘Mortgage Offers’.

Please click on the play button below to listen.

Meet the Wills, Trusts & Estates Team with Caitlin Edwards

What is your role in the Wills, Trusts & Estates team and how long have you been at Sintons?

I am a paralegal and joined the firm in October 2021.

Tell us about your career to date…

I graduated from Durham University with a law degree in 2021 and joined the firm shortly after. There are quite a few lawyers in my family so I’ve always been attracted to a legal career – in fact, my Uncle Paul very kindly gave me my first ever work experience in criminal law aged 16 and has provided me with lots of advice and wisdom since.

What attracted you to join Sintons?

Sintons has an excellent reputation as one of the leading law firms in the North East so naturally this attracted me to the firm. I also knew that the quality of work I would be exposed to would be unrivalled.

What does your role involve?

I work in the Court of Protection team and help manage the day-to-day affairs of our clients who lack the capacity to manage their property and financial affairs. My role within the team is incredibly varied and involves anything from drafting applications to the Court to overseeing building and adaptation works to our clients’ homes – no two days are the same!

I work closely with the firm’s Neurotrauma team on catastrophic injury cases where a Deputy is required and have developed an excellent understanding of managing files where a client has an ongoing personal injury case.

I am also a member of the firms CSR committee and work alongside other members of the committee to raise awareness and money for our charity of the year, which this year is The Peoples Kitchen.

What have been your personal highlights to date?

In July 2022, I secured a training contract at Sintons to commence in September 2024. I am so excited to be a Sintons trainee!

The award-winning Wills, Trusts & Estates team is one of the most highly-rated in the North of England. What are the advantages of being part of it?

The people! I have the best colleagues I could possibly ask for. Entering the legal profession straight out of university was incredibly nerve wracking but immediately I was welcomed into the team with open arms.

My supervisor, Sophie Moore is fantastic and has supported me in managing my own case load and developing my Court of Protection knowledge. I have had the opportunity to work on a range of Court of Protection matters, including complex statutory will applications, as well as the day-to-day management of complex Deputy matters.

How does Sintons differ from other firms you have worked in?

Every person in the firm genuinely wants to see you succeed and progress and will help you in any way they can, which creates a very supportive working environment.

What are your interests outside of work?

Outside of work I volunteer with Smart Works Newcastle, which is a fantastic charity that supports women into employment in the North East, as well as The People’s Kitchen, who provide thousands of hot meals to those in need each week.

I am also the Treasurer of the Newcastle and North East Junior Lawyers Division.

Ahead of my training contract, I am undertaking the Legal Practice Course part-time.

Meet the Private Client Team with Melissa Gill

What is your role in the private client team and how long have you been at Sintons?

I am a paralegal in the Court of Protection team and joined the firm in 2017.

Tell us about your career to date…

I worked at Womble Bond Dickinson for 13 years as a legal secretary specialising in private client matters, including wills, trusts and probate, as well as family law. I joined Sintons in 2017 as a legal secretary in the wills, trusts and probate team and then joined the Court of Protection team as paralegal in September 2019.

I now work exclusively in the Court of Protection team.

What attracted you to Sintons?

Having worked within the Newcastle legal sector for some time, I have always been alive to the excellent reputation Sintons holds. Many of my legal contacts held Sintons in such high regard that when the opportunity to join the firm arose, it was one I couldn’t turn down.

What does your role involve?

As a member of Sintons’ ever-growing Court of Protection team, I oversee the day-to-day management of many of our clients’ property and financial affairs matters. Due to my vast experience as a Court of Protection paralegal, I not only assist Sophie Moore with her files, but also manage my own.

My specialisms include both elderly client matters, as well as managing the affairs of those who have sustained a catastrophic injury. I enjoy working alongside the firm’s Neurotrauma team to provide the highest level of client care, for which Sintons is renowned.

What have been your personal highlights to date?

I was delighted to be promoted to the role of paralegal in September 2019.

I have also built a reputation within the firm for assisting with the supervision of junior fee earners and trainee solicitors within the Court of Protection team. This is something I am very passionate about and I am very excited to see the team expand.

It is great to be part of a firm which offers opportunities for professional development and is keen to invest in its people.

The private client team is one of the most highly-rated in the North of England. What are the advantages of being part of it?

Sintons’ Court of Protection team has a superb dynamic – not only do we have some of the North East’s most talented COP practitioners, but we also have excellent emerging talent.

Sophie Moore is an outstanding solicitor who has an excellent knowledge of complex Court of Protection law. She is a true asset to the firm and goes out of her way to support the professional development of the team. We were also delighted to welcome Hannah Mitchell into the team in late 2022, who has added invaluable skill and expertise to the team.

The team is regularly rated highly by the Legal 500 and Chambers UK, which is a testament to the teams’ hard work.

How does Sintons differ from other firms you have worked in?

There is an excellent dynamic at Sintons and I consider many of my colleagues to be some of my closest friends. There is no hierarchical structure and having senior members of the firm available to chat to at any time should you need to, is very telling about of the culture of the firm.

Sintons has a great ethos and is very supportive of it staff, both as professionals and as individuals.

What are your interests outside of work?

I enjoy spending time with my husband and ten-year-old daughter. We enjoy trying out new restaurants and cuisines and travelling.

A live Q&A with Sintons’ Family team – Episode 16

In episode 16 of our monthly live Q&A sessions with Sintons’ family team, solicitor Ifi Archibong answers three of your family related questions. Just a reminder that these sessions have come about due to the volume of questions we received for our live Q&A session during the recent Good Divorce Week. We weren’t able to answer anywhere near the questions we received and we thought these sessions would therefore be a great idea. Moving forward we are going to be running them at 10am on the third Friday of each month, live, on Teams.

Please click on the play button in the bottom left corner of the below video image to start viewing.

We have also included a podcast version, the link is also below.

Contentious specialists top-rated in Chambers High Net Worth rankings

Law firm Sintons has again been confirmed as a leader in the North of England in handling contentious private wealth disputes through a top-tier ranking from Chambers and Partners.

The contentious probate, trusts and inheritance disputes team has been awarded a Band 1 ranking in the Chambers High Net Worth Legal Guide 2023, in recognition of its nationally-renowned specialism in this area of work.

The team are regularly hailed as top tier specialists by both Legal 500 and Chambers legal rankings, but this latest endorsement confirms its capability in high net worth matters.

Emma Saunders, head of the team, is again named as a top-tier lawyer and specialist in her field, in recognition of the highest standards of legal service and client support she delivers.

Associate Emilie Rowell also wins praise from the guide, and is named as an Associate to Watch.

The team is known nationally for its capability in this niche area of law, supporting clients through what are often complex and distressing matters to secure the best possible outcome for their unique circumstances.

Christopher Welch, managing partner of Sintons, says: “Our contentious probate, trusts and inheritance disputes team is consistently top-ranked for its deep expertise in this area of work. Few law firms can come close to the levels of capability we have in our team.

“We are delighted that, again, we are acknowledged in the highest possible terms with a Band 1 ranking, which is wholly deserved for the outstanding work our team does on behalf of clients during what can be hugely difficult circumstances for them.

“A true national leader in her field, Emma again wins recognition for her work in contentious matters, which sees her acting for clients in matters of the greatest complexity from throughout the country. We are also delighted to see recognition for Emelie, one of our past trainees who continues to excel.

“As our team continues to grow and develop its presence further nationally, we are very pleased with the latest independent recognition of the service we are providing, which is what we are utterly committed to delivering in each and every matter.”

Conveyancing team ranked in Chambers High Net Worth Legal Guide

The conveyancing team at Sintons has been named as a national leader in its field by Chambers and Partners for its specialism in handling high value transactions.

In the newly-released Chambers High Net Worth Legal Guide 2023, Sintons is one of only a handful of firms nationally to be named as a specialist in high value residential property work.

Its head of department, Anna Barton, was also named as a leading specialist in this area of work.

Both the department and Anna are ranked in the guide for the first time, showing the continued development and progress of the team in building its profile and presence nationally.

The conveyancing team has a reputation for its capability in high value and complex residential property work, and it is regularly instructed on a national basis.

The majority of its work comes from referral or repeat instruction and clients include investors and property portfolio owners, with many based in London.

Regularly winning praise for the quality of its legal and client service, its inclusion in the Chambers High Net Worth Legal Guide provides yet more independent endorsement of its work.

Christopher Welch, managing partner of Sintons, says: “We are delighted that our conveyancing team has been acknowledged by Chambers for its outstanding work in high net worth matters.

“For many years, we have excelled in this area of work, supporting private purchasers, investors and portfolio owners alike to acquire high value property and often overcoming great complexities in the transactions in doing so.

“Our team is of the highest capability and, led by Anna Barton, continues to thrive nationally. I am delighted to also see Anna singled out for recognition, with her commitment to delivering the highest standards of legal and personal service at the root of her superb reputation in this field.

“Congratulations to Anna and her team on an excellent achievement, which is thoroughly deserved and hard earned, and gives yet more independent evidence of our quality as a law firm.”

Private client team wins top-tier Chambers High Net Worth ranking

Sintonsprivate client team has again been confirmed as a leader in its field by Chambers and Partners, with its capability in high net worth matters hailed in newly-published rankings.

The team is ranked as a Band 1 law firm in Newcastle by the Chambers High Net Worth Legal Guide 2023, in recognition of its specialism in supporting clients with their private wealth, building further on its longstanding position as a go-to name in the North.

Head of department Paul Nickalls is again ranked as one of the leading names in this area of work, following similar endorsement from Legal 500 and Chambers legal rankings over many years.

Partner Paul Collingwood is named as an up and coming name in this specialist area of work.

For over 125 years, Sintons has been a leading name in private client work across the North East, supporting several generations of families in managing their wealth and planning for the future. Over the years, it has diversified to become an esteemed name nationally.

The team is regularly instructed in matters of the highest value and complexity, with clients coming to Sintons from across the country on the strength of its reputation for delivering legal and client service excellence.

Its endorsement by the High Net Worth Legal Guide adds further independent evidence of its capability and the outstanding work it does for clients.

Christopher Welch, managing partner of Sintons, says: “For generations, we have supported families with their private client work, leading to the formation of longstanding, trusting relationships which continue to be developed.

“Our client commitment and deep capability has meant we can support with any matter, however complex, and for over 125 years our private client team have gone out of their way to do all they can to support clients in managing and protecting their assets for current and future generations.

“Our top-tier ranking in the High Net Worth Legal Guide provides yet more endorsement of the outstanding job our team are doing, and every person in the team plays their part. Paul Nickalls and Paul Collingwood continue to win individual recognition for their outstanding capability and client focus, which is very well deserved.

“As our department continues to grow and develop, we are committed to the values of legal and client service excellence that are at the heart of Sintons – and this Band 1 ranking provides further evidence that we are delivering on that.”

Meet the Wills, Trusts & Estates Team with Charlotte Gunn

What is your role in the team and how long have you been at Sintons?

I am a newly qualified solicitor in the Wills, Trusts and Estates team.

Tell us about your career to date…

I graduated with a first class law degree from Newcastle University before completing my LPC at Northumbria University.

Following my graduation, I worked part time as an NHS administrator before joining Sintons in January 2021 as a paralegal in the commercial property team. I started my training contract in March 2023, and have worked within the commercial property, private client and neurotrauma teams.

In March 2023, I qualified into the Wills, Trusts and Estates team at Sintons.

What attracted you to Sintons?

Growing up in the North East, I knew that I always wanted to live and work locally. I applied for a training contract with Sintons due to the firm’s strong local roots, the breadth of services available to clients and the high quality of work which Sintons attracts.

What does your role involve?

I assist with a number of private client matters ranging from will drafting and lasting powers of attorney to the administration of estates.

What have been your personal highlights to date?

I feel very fortunate to have completed my training contract at such a prestigious North East firm. The Sintons private client team has a number of highly specialist fee earners who I have been able to train alongside and learn from. I have been able to assist on several high net worth estates, often including business and agricultural assets.

My personal highlight to date was being offered a job within the private client team at Sintons at the end of my two year training contract. I very much look forward to seeing how my skillset will continue to develop as a newly qualified solicitor within the department.

The award-winning Wills, Trusts & Estates team is one of the most highly-rated in the North of England. What are the advantages of being part of it?

Being part of the private client team, I am able to work alongside some of the best solicitors in the North East. I have been fortunate enough to train under the supervision of Paul Collingwood, a highly specialist Partner in the team, who has allowed me to assist with complex will drafting and high net worth estates. I have enjoyed being exposed to such high quality work during my training.

Our recent nomination for Northern Powerhouse Private Client Team of the Year is a clear demonstration of the vast breadth of technical knowledge and experience within the team. The team works closely together to provide the very best service to our clients.

What are your interests outside of work?

Outside of work, I enjoy spending time with my family and friends and being outdoors. I am a keen baker and have raised over £1,200 for the firm’s charity via bake sales in the last year.

I have recently bought my first house, so my weekends are often spent decorating!

Will I be held to my pre-nuptial agreement?

What is a pre-nuptial agreement?

A pre-nuptial agreement is a legal document that records parties financial circumstances and how they will be divided if they separate and divorce.

It is essentially a contract signed by both parties before they marry or enter into a civil partnership.

The current status of pre-nuptial agreements in the UK.

The case of Radmacher v Granatino [2010] is a ‘landmark’ case that provides guidance and sets the current status of pre-nuptial agreements in the UK. Pre-nuptial agreements are not strictly enforceable in the UK courts, however court should give effect to a pre-nuptial agreement that is freely entered into by each party with a full appreciation of its implications unless in the circumstances prevailing it would not be fair to hold the parties to the agreement’.

No agreement between the parties can override the legislation or prevent the judge from deciding on the appropriate division of assets on divorce.

Fairness can be assessed by applying the following three-stage test:

  • Both parties have entered into the agreement of their own free will and without undue influence or external pressure. A party’s emotional state at the time of making the agreement, age, maturity and experience of long-term relationships are all relevant considerations made by the court.
  • Both parties have full appreciation of the implications of the agreement. Before signing, each part should be in possession of all the information material to their decision to sign the agreement.
  • It must be fair to hold the parties to their agreement  in the circumstances prevailing. An agreement is unlikely to be fair if it leaves most of the assets to one party where each party has played an equal role in their different ways in creating those assets. The three strands of need, compensation and sharing (identified in White and Miller)are relevant considerations that may inform fairness.

But what happens when one party then seeks to renege on the agreement?

The recent case of MN v AN [2023] perfectly demonstrates how the court will uphold a pre-nuptial agreement if it is fair and it has been entered into per the relevant criteria.

Prior to marriage the husband (whom had been divorced before and had other children) made the proposal that he would like the parties to enter into a pre-nuptial agreement. Both parties then instructed independent solicitors, who provide comprehensive advice..

During the negotiations the wife became increasingly unhappy with the proposals of the husband which lead to  ‘the mother of all arguments’ and during which the husband called the wife a ‘gold-digger’ and the wife left the property.

The parties later reconciled and came to an agreement (which on all accounts appeared to be a middle ground between their respective positions) regarding the pre-nuptial agreement.

The parties went on to marry and the marriage lasted 13 years and bore 2 children. When the marriage broke down, the husband rightly sought to hold the wife to the agreement but the wife had other ideas.  She attempted various arguments as to why the Court should award her more than she originally agreed to including that she was pressurised into the agreement and that it did not now meet her financial needs.  The Court however held her to the agreement in its entirety.

The takeaway from this recent case is that whilst the Court retains jurisdiction to consider pre-nuptial agreements as one of the factors of a case, parties who enter into such agreements, should be expected to be held to it.  There is no easy way to get out of the deal.  It is therefore imperative that the agreement is entered into properly, with full disclosure and advice as to fairness.  Furthermore the agreement should be reviewed regularly to ensure that it remains up to date.

If a prenuptial agreement is something you feel you and your partner would benefit from or you have been asked to enter in an agreement, then a member of our team would be happy to offer a brief, no obligation, discussion on these issues. You can contact us on 0191 226 7807 or via our website.

Local Searches

In the sixteenth of our ‘Understanding Residential Conveyancing‘ podcast series, Senior Associate Suzanne Dixon discusses ‘Local Searches’.

Please click on the play button below to listen.

Incapacity and making a will

A will is arguably one of the most important documents that you will make in your lifetime. In order to make a will, you must have capacity. The capacity to make a will is called “testamentary capacity”. This means that you must have the ability to understand what you are doing, the impact that it will have on your estate, and who might expect to inherit from your estate.

You must be able to:

  1. understand that you are making a will;
  2. understand what assets you have and what you are leaving under your will; and
  3. understand if anyone else may have a claim on your estate and the consequences of not including that person as a beneficiary.

Furthermore, you must not be suffering from a mental disorder or delusion which would influence your views when making a will.

If any of the above requirements are not met, then the person is considered to lack testamentary capacity to make a will.

Satisfying the above requirements can be challenging for a person with a brain injury or who suffers from an incapacitating illness such as Alzheimer’s disease. If a person does not have testamentary capacity to make a will, a statutory will application to the Court of Protection may offer a solution for that person.

What is a statutory will?

A statutory will, is a will made by the Court of Protection on behalf of someone who is unable to make one themselves because they lack testamentary capacity. A statutory will is approved by a judge in the Court of Protection and sealed by the Court.

The Court will decide a course of action based entirely upon their assessment of what is in the person’s “best interests” and various factors will be taken into account in order to allow the Court to make a decision.

There are many reasons why a statutory will application may be necessary. It may be that the person has never made a will before. Alternatively, if the person does have a will, then a statutory will may be needed to address existing arrangements which are no longer suitable. For example, it may be that a beneficiary in the will has died, or an asset that was left to a beneficiary has been disposed of. A statutory will may also be necessary where the value of the estate has changed significantly.

Who can apply?

You can apply for a statutory will on behalf of someone who lacks testamentary capacity to make a will if you are acting as the person’s attorney under a Lasting Power of Attorney for property and financial affairs, or if acting as their deputy under a Deputyship Order for property and financial affairs. If you do not fall within either of these categories, or the other listed exceptions, then you need to ask the Court for permission to make the application.

Evidence of lack of capacity

It is a legal principle that everyone is assumed to have mental capacity unless it is established otherwise. For the Court to consider a statutory will application, it must see medical evidence that the person is unable to make a will for himself/herself due to a lack of capacity. A medical practitioner, such as a GP, will complete an assessment of capacity form which can then be sent to the Court along with the relevant application forms. If there is a chance that the person might regain the necessary capacity to make a will in the future, there could be no need to make a statutory will on their behalf.

What does “best interests” mean?

This is a very complex area and involves looking at the person’s individual circumstances.  The Court’s ultimate objective, when considering an application for a statutory will, is whether the proposals are in the person’s best interests. The wishes (past and present) of the person who lacks testamentary capacity are a relevant consideration, but the Court needs to consider many other aspects. For example, this will include information about what the person owns, how much their estate is worth, information about health, life expectancy, past and present wishes, beliefs and values, and current and future care needs.

Who will be notified of the application?

The person making the statutory will application on behalf of the person lacking testamentary capacity has a duty to name certain individuals as respondents to the application. This includes:

  1. Anyone named in an existing will or codicil who might be materially or adversely affected by the application;
  2. Anyone named in a proposed will or codicil who might be materially or adversely affected by the application; and
  3. Where the person does not have an existing will, anyone who would inherit under the intestacy rules.

The Court will provide time to reach an agreement with these people about the proposals in the draft will. If an agreement cannot be reached, then a court hearing may take place to settle any points of dispute.

Once the application has been made, the Official Solicitor will be invited to act as an independent party to the proceedings. Their role is to ensure that the person who lacks capacity has someone independent to represent them in the proceedings.

Once the order is made

If the Court approves the terms of the statutory will, then the Court will issue an Order authorising the will to be signed on behalf of the person who lacks capacity. The will can then be signed and witnessed, and then subsequently sealed by the Court.

Once this has been done, the statutory will has the same effect for all purposes as if the person who lacks testamentary capacity was able to sign it. The will can be used in the normal way to distribute the person’s estate following their death.

Getting further advice

Statutory will applications can be very complex and it is important that you seek professional advice before proceeding.

If you would like further information or advice regarding statutory wills or assistance with an application, please do not hesitate to contact our Court of Protection team on 0191 226 7878.

Meet the Family Team with Jo Scott

What is your role in the team and how long have you been at Sintons?

I am a senior associate at Sintons and joined in May 2023

Tell us about your career to date…

I have 30 years’ experience as a specialist family solicitor, and I have worked in the North East throughout that time.

I have been a qualified Resolution-accredited collaborative lawyer since 2010, and then gained accreditation as a Resolution-qualified solicitor mediator.

What attracted you to join Sintons?

Having practiced in the North East throughout my career, I am well aware of the high quality service it delivers to clients, and the legal expertise it has always had within its team. Its reputation in the marketplace really does stand out so the opportunity to join Sintons was a welcome one.

Through my long track record in working in family law, I have come to know Louise Masters, head of family law at Sintons, and consultant Elizabeth Gallagher through working with them both collaboratively and non-collaboratively. They are both very highly rated and highly esteemed names in family law, so I am delighted to work alongside them.

Additionally, I am very impressed by Sintons’ ongoing drive towards achieving net zero and the commitment of the firm in getting there. The firm’s CSR policy and how active it is in the local community clearly shows its ethos and was another factor in me wanting to join.

What does your role involve?

I am committed to supporting clients with a range of issues arising from the breakdown of relationships, including divorce, separation agreements, dissolution of civil partnerships and issues arising from the breakdown of a cohabiting relationship.

Through my many years of experience in this specialist area of law, I can handle with the full spectrum of matters associated with separation, but I specialise in complex financial arrangements and resolving issues involving children that arise upon the breakdown of a relationship. I also advice on pre- and post-nuptial agreements.”

Furthermore, I help to mentor junior members of staff within our team, supporting their development as they build their careers.

The award-winning Family team is one of the most highly rated in the North of England. What are the advantages of being part of it?

This is a fantastic team of people who I enjoy working with both personally and professionally. We were recently shortlisted again in the Northern Law Awards, verifying our place as one of the leaders in our field in the North of England. We are all committed to building our capability in family law even further.

While I have worked in this area of law for many years, I love how I continue to learn and grow within this team. The opportunities for continued development are fantastic and we are developing as a team too.

How does Sintons differ from other firms you have worked in?

Sintons has a fantastic reputation which is well known across the North East, but what has really struck me during my time here is the friendliness of the everybody who works here. From my very first day I have been made to feel very welcome.

But while it is a lovely place to work, it still maintains a very professional approach with an uncompromising level of client care, which are standards I have always aspired to deliver throughout my career.

What are your interests outside of work?

I love all things outdoors – particularly hiking, running, and gardening. I am also a fan of pilates.

Meet the Wills, Trusts & Estates Team with Ed Liddell

What is your role in the team and how long have you been at Sintons?

I am a solicitor within the team and I have been with Sintons for around eleven months.

Tell us about your career to date…

I didn’t originally study law at university and graduated with a degree in economics from the University of Leicester in 2006. After a varied career within the wine trade, I went back to university with a view to obtaining the additional post graduate certificates required to become a solicitor in 2015. I finally qualified as a solicitor in September 2019 having trained with a firm in Leicester before later joining another in the same city.

What attracted you to join Sintons?

I am originally from the North East and most of my family are still here. The Covid pandemic made me realise that I wanted to be closer to my family, the coast and the incredible city of Newcastle. After that, it was a question of where to work.

Sintons was a clear leader from the start as a Newcastle based firm with a national (and beyond) outlook with an amazing reputation for both client service and legal expertise. I was delighted that I was successful in joining the firm.

What does your role involve?

I deal with a varied case load within the department. This can be anything from drafting wills and trusts to administering estates. I also assist the senior members of the team on some of their files.

I see the most important part of my role as being a support to clients and helping them through some of life’s most difficult moments.

What have been your personal highlights to date?

I have recently been admitted as a full member of the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (“STEP”) after two years of studying and exams in addition to all those I had done just to become a solicitor.

STEP is a global professional body of diverse members from lawyers to wealth planners to accountants who help families plan for the future. It is an achievement that I am very proud of and am equally proud to say that I work alongside four other full members in the team; Paul Nickalls, Paul Collingwood, Katie Gosling and Lauren Coad.

The award-winning Wills, Trusts & Estates team is one of the most highly-rated in the North of England. What are the advantages of being part of it?

We have a great working dynamic within the team. Everyone is ready and willing to offer their particular expertise and experience to each other regardless of role or title. This means that the clients aren’t just benefiting from the knowledge of the person they see or speak to, but from the entire team.

This ethos allows us to offer the highest standards of work to our clients regardless of the complexity of their requirements.

How does Sintons differ from other firms you have worked in?

The sheer breadth of different areas of practice that the firm offers really sets Sintons apart for me. The departments enjoy a great reputation which is consistently reinforced by national guides such as Legal 500 and Chambers UK.

One thing that has struck me about Sintons is the Trainee Challenge. Every year the trainees and apprentices are tasked with planning a fundraising challenge for the firm’s current charity (at the moment this is the People’s Kitchen, which helps to support some of the most vulnerable members of society in Newcastle). Last year, they paddled 58km down the Bann river in Northern Ireland, and this year they will be completing the Yorkshire Three Peaks. I wish I had had the same opportunities as a trainee!

What are your interests outside of work?

While my own sporting days are sadly behind me, I love watching our local teams, mostly Newcastle United, but I also enjoy going to watch the Falcons play. I enjoy heading to the coast and experiencing the natural beauty of Northumberland. We really do live in a beautiful part of the world.

A live Q&A with Sintons’ Family team – Episode 15

In episode 15 of our monthly live Q&A sessions with Sintons’ family team, solicitor Ifi Archibong answers three of your family related questions. Just a reminder that these sessions have come about due to the volume of questions we received for our live Q&A session during the recent Good Divorce Week. We weren’t able to answer anywhere near the questions we received and we thought these sessions would therefore be a great idea. Moving forward we are going to be running them at 10am on the third Friday of each month, live, on Teams.

Please click on the play button in the bottom left corner of the below video image to start viewing.

We have also included a podcast version, the link is also below.

Family team grows further

The family team at Sintons continues to expand with the addition of a new specialist to the fast-growing department.

Ayesha Raja has over six years of experience in family law, working across the North East and South Yorkshire and amassing specialism in a range of areas in that time.

She joins Sintons as a paralegal, adding further capability and capacity to its family law team, which continues to grow on the strength of new instructions.

The award-winning family team, which is again shortlisted in this year’s Northern Law Awards, acts for clients across the country and is renowned for its work in high net worth and complex cases of separation and divorce.

“Sintons is well known in the marketplace for the quality of its team as well as for the service it delivers to clients, and I’m really pleased to be part of it,” says Ayesha.

“Family law is a very specialist area of law where outstanding client support and service is essential. That is an approach that is very important to me, so I am very pleased to join Sintons, where this is the focus of everything they do.”

Louise Masters, partner and head of family law, says: “We are very pleased to welcome Ayesha to our team. This is an exciting time of growth and progress for us as a department, with our reputation and the quality of legal and client service we consistently deliver being key in us winning new work nationally.

“Sintons are specialist advisors to clients across the UK in matters of separation and divorce – particularly in high value and complex cases – as well as in protective planning, and as we continue to see our caseload increase, we bring in new expertise to help us meet the ongoing demand for our support.

“We look forward to working with Ayesha as we continue to build our reputation and presence nationally, and ensure we deliver the highest possible standards to our clients.”

Meet the Wills, Trusts & Estates Team with Nikita Noel

What is your role in the  team and how long have you been at Sintons?

I joined Sintons having worked at my previous company for just over seven years. I am a solicitor in the department.

Tell us about your career to date…

I achieved my law degree at Northumbria University, qualifying with an MLaw degree after completing their Exempting route course. Born and raised in Teesside, I began my career as a legal secretary at a local company before being offered a training contract in their private client department. I qualified as a solicitor in Wills, Trusts and Estates with them just over five years ago and have enjoyed a fulfilling and challenging career ever since.

What attracted you to join Sintons?

Having lived in Newcastle whilst studying, I always had a burning desire to return, if not to live, then simply to experience working in a city where I have such vibrant memories.

I was well aware of Sintons’ glowing reputation, and from the moment I met the team, I knew it was the place for me. I felt immediately welcomed, valued and excited to embark on a new adventure! The team is ambitious with a desire to constantly grow and it’s a pleasure to be part of it.

What does your role involve?

I specialise in a range of private client matters including the preparation of wills, drafting lasting powers of attorney, the administration of estates and providing tax advice to high net worth clients. I try to maintain quite a high face to face presence with clients, particularly given the type of people that we meet and also to offer some normality for people following the pandemic.

I involve myself in a lot of the networking events that are not only held in house but also those which are hosted externally by referrers, with a view to building a network in the city. I am also a dementia friends champion and an associate member of the Solicitors for the Elderly. My resolution for the year is to start my journey to becoming a fully qualifies member with the Society of Trusts and Estates Practitioners (STEP).

What have been your personal highlights to date?

Moving to Sintons was a huge step for me – not only because I was working in a new city, but also because I have only ever worked at one firm previously in my adult life, a firm I had grown very comfortable working for.

Working alongside such a supportive team and community has been a huge personal high for me. I felt welcomed and valued – not only professionally but personally too. I am constantly encouraged to ‘be myself’ and I think that this has a positive impact on how I connect with clients too.

The award-winning Wills, Trusts & Estates team is one of the most highly-rated in the North of England. What are the advantages of being part of it?

The private client team at Sintons are constantly excelling and it’s a pleasure to be part of such a highly regarded team of professionals in the North East. Paul Nickalls is an exceptional role model, constantly offering support and ensuring the wellbeing of his team members.

Working for a company with such a high reputation naturally motivates you to want to contribute to that and it’s evident from every team member that we all pride ourselves on doing the best that we possibly can. It is also really comforting that we have such a tight working and personal relationship with each other as it means that we are all supportive of one another which, again, can only have a positive outcome for clients.

How does Sintons differ from other firms you have worked in?

I have spent my whole adult working life working locally at a firm that supported me through my progression and gave me high quality private client knowledge for which I will always be grateful for.

I always feared that if I moved I would lose the ability to progress professionally or that I would miss out on the opportunity to grow, but this is definitely not the case at Sintons. I am constantly exposed to interesting cases and have opportunities to assist on a wide range of matters.

Sintons are fully supportive of each and every individual and are always striving to ensure the best and most comfortable working environment. I always thought that moving to a city firm, I may feel like a ‘small fish in a big pond’ – I can safely say, that Sintons have made me feel quite the opposite!

What are your interests outside of work?

I love staying active and keeping fit – I particularly enjoy playing netball for my local team and am a frequent gym goer. Ben, my partner, and I love to travel so we try to get away as much as possible during the course of the year.

I spend most of my free time with friends and family but most importantly, my little cockapoo Finn, comes everywhere with me. We’re always out walking and enjoying the fresh air – really, he’s my main interest outside of work!

Meet the Wills, Trusts & Estates Team with Emelie Rowell

What is your role in the team and how long have you been at Sintons?

I am a solicitor at Sintons specialising in contentious wills, trusts and estate matters, in addition to disputed Court of Protection issues. I have been at Sintons for over five years, after completing my training contract at the firm and qualifying as a solicitor in September 2019.

Tell us about your career to date…

I completed my MLaw (Exempting) Degree at Northumbria University, incorporating the Legal Practice Course, graduating in July 2017 with first-class honours. I commenced my training contract at Sintons in September 2017 and over the course of two years, I undertook six months in each of Private Client, dealing with personal and family matters, Employment, Real Estate and Contentious Probate (where I qualified).

In 2021, I completed the Association of Contentious Trusts and Probate Specialists (ACTAPS) course to hone my expertise in this field from the outset of my career.

What attracted you to Sintons?

Despite originating from outside of the North East, I was already aware of Sintons’ excellent reputation, not only in relation to its diverse areas of work, including its private client team, but also for its trainee solicitor programme.

I knew training at Sintons would provide me with the greatest start to my legal career and ensure I was well-equipped with the knowledge and experience required to start my journey as a qualified solicitor.

What does your role involve?

As part of our growing contentious probate team, I advise on a range of disputes concerning a deceased’s estate which often involves those relating to the estate administration, will challenges and Inheritance Act claims. I navigate our clients through sensitive issues, often involving delicate family relationships.

I work closely with our private client team to ensure our clients receive comprehensive advice on both non-contentious and contentious matters that may arise on their death, and often work alongside the dispute resolution team due to the litigious nature of our work. Our expertise overlaps which assists in a full service to clients to ensure things are dealt with effectively.

What have been your personal highlights to date?

Being recognised as an associate to watch in the Chambers High Net Worth Guide 2022 and listed as a key individual in the Legal 500 2022 and 2023 guides are personal highlights. It demonstrates my growing reputation in this field at an early stage in my career, alongside other key professionals who are recognised for their expertise.

The award-winning Wills, Trusts & Estates team is one of the most highly-rated in the North of England. What are the advantages of being part of it?

The private client team is known for its expertise in the region. I am consistently challenged to aid my development and I have been involved in a variety of complex matters from the initial stages of my career.

Having a great team dynamic and enjoyable place to work is another key advantage! This is particularly important when the nature of our work can cross over in a number of areas and allows us to support our colleagues with ease.

How does Sintons differ from other firms you have worked in?

Everyone at Sintons is very welcoming and having trained at the firm, I have had the opportunity to get to know and work with all staff right up to partner level. This has really helped with internal referrals to ensure our clients receive a full service, as I already know who specialises in which area of law.

I do feel appreciated at Sintons for my contribution to work but also in promoting the firm and our CSR activities, which makes it all worthwhile.

What are your interests outside of work?

Outside of work I spend a lot of my time out with my family and cocker spaniel, discovering some of the wonderful places the North East has to offer. I am also a music enthusiast and play a variety of instruments including the flute, piano and saxophone.

Family team makes senior appointment

Law firm Sintons has appointed a highly experienced senior lawyer to its fast-growing specialist family team.

Jo Scott has worked in family law for over 30 years and is known for her specialism in the full spectrum of family work, including collaborative practice. Her cases often include those of significant complexity involving financial issues and issues involving children.

Senior associate Jo moves to Sintons at a time of strong progress for its family team, which acts nationally in high net worth and complex cases of divorce and separation, as well as in protective planning, and has recently been shortlisted in the Northern Law Awards 2023 in recognition of its legal and client service excellence.

“Having spent my whole career working in the North East, I know only too well the capability of Sintons’ family team and the esteem in which it is held. I am very pleased to become part of that,” says Jo.

Louise Masters, partner and head of family law at Sintons, says: “We are delighted to welcome Jo to our team at a time of strong growth for us as a department.

“Jo’s reputation for her work proceeds her and she wholly shares our commitment to delivering the legal and client service, which is at the heart of everything we do here at Sintons.

“Through our longstanding reputation and the tireless work of our team in continuing to build that, we are winning new instructions from across the country, with clients knowing we have the capability and experience to handle the most complex of cases.

“In a time of strong development and progress, it is fantastic we can add the expertise and excellence of Jo to our team – we look forward to working with her to build our department even further.”

A live Q&A with Sintons’ Family team – Episode 14

In episode 14 of our monthly live Q&A sessions with Sintons’ family team, solicitor Ifi Archibong answers three of your family related questions. Just a reminder that these sessions have come about due to the volume of questions we received for our live Q&A session during the recent Good Divorce Week. We weren’t able to answer anywhere near the questions we received and we thought these sessions would therefore be a great idea. Moving forward we are going to be running them at 10am on the third Friday of each month, live, on Teams.

Please click on the play button in the bottom left corner of the below video image to start viewing.

We have also included a podcast version, the link is also below.

Meet the Wills, Trusts & Estates Team with Hannah Mitchell

What is your role in the team and how long have you been at Sintons?

I am a solicitor in the Court of Protection team. I joined the firm in November 2022.

Tell us about your career to date…

I studied law at the University of Edinburgh and spent a year abroad in the Netherlands as part of my studies. After graduating, I moved to the North East where I obtained an English law degree from Northumbria University.

I completed my legal training in 2021 at a law firm in Berwick upon Tweed and joined the Wills, Trusts and Estates team at Sintons the following year.

What attracted you to join Sintons?

I wanted to develop my specialism in Court of Protection work and the opportunity to join the growing Court of Protection team at Sintons allowed me to do just that.

My previous firm did not have a personal injury offering, so I knew that the close relationship between Sintons’ Court of Protection team and the Neurotrauma team would allow me to develop my knowledge into new areas of Court of Protection work.

The firm has a fantastic reputation for excellent client service and a friendly working environment, so I am very grateful to be a part of this as the firm continues to grow.

What does your role involve?

My work within the Court of Protection team is incredibly varied.

I assist clients who lack capacity to manage their property and financial affairs by ensuring that their assets are suitably managed and invested. I oversee applications made to the Court of Protection and can advise on deputyships, personal injury trusts and statutory wills.

What have been your personal highlights to date?

I am currently assisting a client with the redevelopment of their house to ensure that it meets their mobility needs. It is exciting to be involved in such as large build project and a privilege to be able to assist the client in designing their dream home.

The award-winning Wills, Trusts & Estates team is one of the most highly-rated in the North of England. What are the advantages of being part of it?

Sintons has a fantastic reputation for its supportive and friendly working environment, great teamwork and excellent client care. This is very evident within the firm. Everyone is approachable and friendly and it is clear that they will support you to succeed in your own career ambitions.

There is great co-operation both within the Wills, Trust and Estates Team and across different teams within the firm which ensures that clients receive practical advice which is tailored to their circumstances. Each member of the team is committed to getting to know their clients personally so that long-term relationships can be nurtured.

How does Sintons differ from other firms you have worked in?

The firm’s social media presence is excellent and the blogs and podcasts on offer help to ensure that our clients have a breadth of resources available to them.

The firm also offers many opportunities and resources to help broaden legal knowledge and expertise and there are lots of networking events to get involved with too. I recently participated in a public speaking training course and I am hoping to attend Deputy Day later this year.

It is also great to see the firm’s commitment to giving back to the local community through the Corporate Social Responsibility program.

What are your interests outside of work?

I enjoy travelling and exploring new places, both in the UK and abroad. I recently visited Greece for the first time and will definitely return for the sunny weather and delicious food.

When I am not travelling, I enjoy reading, listening to music and hill walking. I am also currently learning how to play the piano, which is a skill I have always admired.

Frozen embryos and divorce and separation

Sophie Croft, Solicitor in the Family team at Sintons recently recorded a podcast, which is another in the series of Family Law updates. In this episode, Sophie discusses ‘Frozen embryos and divorce and separation’.

Please click on the play button below to listen.

Frozen embryos and divorce and separation

Many heterosexual, same-sex and LGBTQ+ couples who are unable to conceive naturally are opting for alternative fertility treatments to create their family such as Intraterine insemination (IU) and In Vitro fertilisation (IVF). These methods are well tested and produce successful results for couples in need.

Single persons or couples may choose to preserve their fertility by freezing their eggs, sperm or embryos. Where embryos are created you, your partner and the donor (where applicable) must provide various forms of consent:

  • How long to store your eggs, sperm or embryos (this can be up to 55 years in some cases);
  • The type of treatment you have, including donation;
  • Use and storage of your eggs, sperm or embryos for training purposes;
  • Who will be the legal parent of a child born if you are using donated eggs, sperm or embryos;
  • What will happen to your eggs, sperm or embryos if you die or lose the ability to decide for yourself.

But what happens if you and your partner divorce or separate before the frozen eggs, sperm or embryos are used for fertility treatment?

It is important to note that only the egg or sperm provider has legal rights over the use or storage of their egg, sperm or embryos created with their eggs or sperm. Any person with consent can withdraw this at any time up to the point of insemination. Once consent is withdrawn there is a 12 month ‘cooling off’ period. If a person is still adamant that they no longer want embryos to be stored or used, the embryos must be destroyed.

In the event of divorce or separation, embryos are not considered an ‘asset’ which can be determined or separated on divorce. The family court do not have the power to intervene on behalf of a party who wants to maintain the storage of embryos for future use. There is also no legally binding agreement that can be made at the time of the embryo freezing which considers the legal position in the event of a divorce or separation. Future decisions will be based on the consent forms provided at the time of the initial freezing process.

Case law has shown that in cases where embryos have been created using the egg and sperm of a separated couple, Courts have found in favour of the party withdrawing their consent where the other party seeks to use the embryo for fertility treatment in the future. In cases where an embryo has been created using only one partners egg or sperm (for example where a donor has been used), the partner whose gametes have not been provided could not use the frozen embryo for future treatment unless they obtained the consent of all parties.

Where embryos are used post-divorce or separation, this can also raise issues in respect of who should hold legal parentage for the child. This may involve further court proceedings to provide a declaration of parentage or in surrogacy cases, to apply for a parental order to provide the intended parents with legal rights over the child.

If you are considering fertility treatment now or in the future it is important to understand the legal position before you embark on this complex journey. Please contact one of our specialists at Sintons for advice.

Meet the Wills, Trusts & Estates Team with Jonathan Grogan

What is your role in the team and how long have you been at Sintons?

I am an associate solicitor at Sintons dealing with all aspects of contentious trust and probate. I originally joined the firm in October 2017, and then came back in 2021 after a short period at another firm in Northumberland.

Tell us about your career to date…

I studied at the London School of Economics and qualified as a solicitor in 1996. I did my training in London and moved to the North East initially for a role in a law firm in Durham but then moved to Womble Bond Dickinson, where I spent over 15 years of my career. I specialised there in contentious trusts and probate matters and dealt with a wide variety of cases, both nationally and internationally, including some particularly high value and complex work.

What attracted you to Sintons?

I had developed my work in the contentious field to quite a high level and in 2017 felt I needed a new challenge.  The non-contentious side appealed to me more at this point in my career, and the opportunity to join Sintons presented itself.

Sintons has a great reputation in the legal marketplace and a very good team, so I was keen to be part of that and to develop my knowledge in a new field of private client work. Since coming back to the firm in 2021, my role has once again involved specialising in contentious work, which I have really enjoyed and I am now able to use my non-contentious experience to great effect as it has given me a huge amount of additional insight and technical knowledge.

What does your role involve?

I deal with all aspects of wills, probate and trust disputes. I also get involved in contentious applications to the Court of Protection. I  obtained full membership with STEP (Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners) while previously at Sintons and whilst focusing on my non-contentious work. I have been a full member of ACTAPS (Association of Contentious Trust and Probate Specialists) for a number of years.

I work closely with the rest of the team, as well as with other departments within the firm, to ensure clients receive the outstanding personal service for which Sintons is well known and highly regarded.

What have been your personal highlights to date?

I have really enjoyed getting back into contentious work and have realised just how rewarding it is to get a good result for our clients. For example, we took a particularly complex case to a mediation just before Christmas 2022 and achieved a really satisfactory outcome. I love getting to know clients, as well as work with other colleagues, including the various barristers and other professionals who we have strong relationships with.

The award-winning Wills, Trusts & Estates team is one of the most highly-rated in the North of England. What are the advantages of being part of it?

Sintons has a reputation for quality of work whilst having a sympathetic and practical approach which makes it the firm of choice for so many people. Having worked here in different capacities for a number of years now, I can honestly say that is true. There is a very down to earth, family feel to Sintons, and clients like being advised by people they can relate to.

There is very significant experience here and it is great for me to be part of. Our team handles the whole variety of private client disputes with the highest standards of personal service and whatever the value or complexity involved, the approach is the same and the focus is absolutely on the client at all times.

How does Sintons differ from other firms you have worked in?

I have been very impressed by the friendly, collegiate atmosphere here and it was nice to be welcomed back into the team and the wider firm in 2021. Although it is a growing firm with many nationally-renowned departments within it, its very personal and warm nature has not been lost.

I also think it is a big advantage how Sintons operates from one site and everyone is in one building, it aids close co-operation and enables you to have face-to-face meetings with colleagues whenever the need may arise.

What are your interests outside of work?

I am a keen pianist and love reading, gardening, running, and now training our new Border Terrier, Dora.  I also enjoy getting away with my family (and Dora) to our cottage in North Northumberland, which offers some much-needed tranquillity and downtime in the most beautiful of surroundings.

In conjunction with my role at Sintons I am currently training to become an Anglican priest and plan to serve the Church of England once ordained on a voluntary, part-time basis.

Meet the Wills, Trusts & Estates Team with Lauren Coad

What is your role in the team and how long have you been at Sintons?

I am an associate in the team and joined the firm in 2018.

Tell us about your career to date…

I graduated with a first class law degree at Nottingham University before completing my Legal Practice Course at the University of Law in York.

I then worked at a law firm in North Yorkshire for four years, qualifying as a solicitor in January 2018. I relocated back to the North East and joined Sintons in 2018.

What attracted you to Sintons?

When considering a move back to the North East, Sintons stood out to me immediately. The firm has an outstanding reputation for its legal expertise, backed up by an array of awards and accreditations.

It is so rare to come across a firm which continually strives to grow yet still maintains its high levels of client service. This is evident by the volume of clients which keep coming back to Sintons because they trust in the quality of service they receive.

What does your role involve?

I assist clients with the preparation of wills, lasting powers of attorney and inheritance tax planning. I act for a range of personal representatives in administrating estates, including those with businesses and agricultural land. I advise clients on a range of trust matters, including personal injury trusts, and act for trustees in the administration of trusts.

I am a full member of the Society of Trusts and Estates Practitioners (STEP) and represent the firm on the regional committee. I am actively involved in building the team’s profile by regularly attending networking events and developing relationships with a variety of professionals in the region.

I am currently supervising one of the firm’s solicitor apprentices, Sophie Lemon. It’s a privilege to work with Sophie at such an early stage in her legal career and develop her personal and legal skills.

What have been your personal highlights to date?

Being promoted to an associate in the team in 2022 is my biggest achievement to date. The firm are extremely supportive of career development at every level and will help you achieve your goals.

Another career highlight was winning a STEP Worldwide Excellence Award for achieving the highest mark in the world for the administration of estates assessment. I was so proud to win the award given that the STEP qualification is renowned for being extremely challenging and is recognised as a hallmark of technical ability.

The award-winning Wills, Trusts & Estates team is one of the most highly-rated in the North of England. What are the advantages of being part of it?

I am thrilled to be working with some of the best private client lawyers in the North East. The team are highly regarded not just by the clients but also by national organisations such as the Legal 500 and Chambers UK. It is a privilege to have Paul Nickalls as my supervisor, who is regularly credited as being among the leading lawyers in the whole North of England.

The team’s reputation means we get to work alongside some excellent professionals and I have really enjoyed developing the network of contacts the team has in the area.

Above all, the team works really closely together and we have a great working relationship. We support each other to achieve the best for our clients.

How does Sintons differ from other firms you have worked in?

Sintons is unique in being able to offer a holistic approach to our clients. Many of our colleagues are nationally recognised as leading experts in their field and the firm undertakes work in a variety of niche practice area. This means we can ensure our clients’ needs are met and the advice they receive is tailored to their individual circumstances.

The firm also excels at being a local firm with a national presence, and we are lucky to work with clients all over the country.

What are your interests outside of work?

On weekends I enjoy exploring the North East with our Labrador, Barney. My husband and I love to travel and are currently planning a trip to Australia later this year.

Meet the Wills, Trusts & Estates Team with Sophie Moore

What is your role in the team and how long have you been at Sintons?

I am a solicitor in the Court of Protection team and I joined Sintons in April 2020.

Tell us about your career to date…

I studied Law, and the Legal Practice Course, at Northumbrian University and graduated in 2012. My first job was in the charity sector as a specialist welfare benefits adviser at North Tyneside Citizens Advice Bureau.

I then moved to London and secured a job as a paralegal in the Court of Protection department of a leading London law firm. I later commenced my training contract, with seats in Court of Protection and Injury and Medical Claims. I qualified into Injury and Medical Claims, but changed to specialising in Court of Protection when I joined Sintons.

Having prior experience of serious injury litigation set me in good stead for assisting those who have suffered life changing injuries, most of whom are going through the claims process, and enables me to provide my clients with complete support as a Court of Protection lawyer.

What attracted you to Sintons?

Sintons has an outstanding reputation for both excellence and culture. You only need to look at Sintons’ core values to know that the firm places as much importance on producing excellent results for clients, as it does on staff welfare and morale. This is a hard balance to achieve, but Sintons gets it right.

In addition to looking after clients and its people, Sintons does so much for the local community and charities close to individual departments. The firm takes corporate social responsibility very seriously and as an employee you can get involved in as much, or as little,  as you want.

What does your role involve?

I am responsible for managing the Court of Protection team on a day-to-day basis. Collectively, the team and I assist the Sintons Trust Corporation Limited to carry out its professional role as deputy. The role is varied and involves managing multimillion pound settlements, overseeing property adaptations, recruiting care staff, facilitating specialist rehabilitation packages and approving investment planning.

Attorneys and lay deputies also instruct me to prepare complex Court applications involving, for example, personal injury trusts and statutory wills.

It is a great privilege to work so closely with our clients and the team are passionate about what we do. We put absolutely everything into achieving the highest standard of client care.

What have been your personal highlights to date?

Being an integral part of developing the Court of Protection team is my personal highlight to date. The team has grown considerably over the last two years and being involved in developing the teams structure and it being a success for my colleagues and clients, has been a huge achievement.

I am looking forward to seeing the Court of Protection team continue to grow and thrive.

The award-winning Wills, Trusts & Estates team is one of the most highly-rated in the North of England. What are the advantages of being part of it?

Everyone individual the Private Client team is exceptional at what they do and are committed to achieving excellence for our clients. Being surrounded by knowledgeable and supportive colleges is the best part of being in the team. We all work collaboratively, sharing knowledge and experiences to better our practice.

How does Sintons differ from other firms you have worked in?

Sintons prioritise their workforce and you are made to feel like a valued member of the firm every day. Management and heads of department are personable and approachable, and this ethos filters down in all areas of the firm.

What are your interests outside of work?

It is important in our industry to find what helps you relax outside of work. My go-to is a weekly Yoga class and I also enjoy walking.

Surrogacy Reforms

Sophie Croft, Solicitor in the Family team at Sintons recently recorded a podcast and a video, which is another in the series of Family Law updates. In this episode, Sophie discusses surrogacy reforms.

Please click on the play button in the bottom left corner of the below video image to start viewing.

We have also included a podcast version, the link is also below.

A live Q&A with Sintons’ Family team – Episode 13

In episode 13 of our monthly live Q&A sessions with Sintons’ family team, solicitor Sophie Croft answers three of your family related questions. Just a reminder that these sessions have come about due to the volume of questions we received for our live Q&A session during the recent Good Divorce Week. We weren’t able to answer anywhere near the questions we received and we thought these sessions would therefore be a great idea. Moving forward we are going to be running them at 10am on the third Friday of each month, live, on Teams.

Please click on the play button in the bottom left corner of the below video image to start viewing.

We have also included a podcast version, the link is also below.

Avoiding challenges to your estate post death

Succession planning is important for a number of reasons, including trying to minimise the amount of tax payable on your death, It is also important to consider whether there is a risk of any dispute arising after your death regarding your estate and, if so, how this risk might be reduced. An investment in estate planning during your lifetime should help lessen the chances of your intended beneficiaries having to deal with a dispute.

In England and Wales a person can leave their estate to who they like. However, if this creates a disgruntled or disappointed party then a lengthy, stressful and costly dispute could arise. In this article we consider what might be done in order to avoid this. The most common types of dispute after a person’s death are:

  1. Challenges to the validity of a will;
  2. Claims under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975;
  3. Proprietary Estoppel claims; and
  4. Administration disputes.

Will challenges

Challenges to the validity of a will are most often brought by those who expect to be included as a beneficiary in that will but are not (such as an estranged child) and who would have received more from the estate under an earlier will or under the laws of intestacy. Will challenges are generally brought on the basis that the person making the will either lacked the testamentary capacity to do so, which means the necessary mental capacity to make a will. Other challenges may be brought on the basis that the will maker did not know or approve the contents of the will, or was unduly influenced into making it.

Other concerns include people making homemade wills, or executing (signing) wills without the assistance of a solicitor, which could lead to the wills not being valid. This may have happened particularly over the Covid-19 pandemic when people resorted to creating their own wills at home without legal advice. Certain formalities have to be followed in making a will which can be easy for someone not experienced in the area to get wrong. This could lead to will not being valid or a specific gift not reaching the intended beneficiary.

Involving a solicitor in the preparation and execution of your will can help to address these potential challenges. You may be advised to obtain a medical report from your GP or other medical professional which can be used to fend off any challenge on the grounds of testamentary capacity. Further, if your solicitor can demonstrate that they explained the clauses of the will to you, whether in writing or person (or both), this can assist in showing knowledge and approval of the will. With regards to undue influence your solicitor may ask to see you alone, without any of the beneficiaries present. Again, a later confirmation of this can be used in defence of any will made. If you are executing a will at home a solicitor can help guide you to do this properly, particularly in relation to appropriate witnesses.

Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 claims

Inheritance Act claims are for reasonable financial provision from a person’s estate. They can be brought by spouses, former spouses, cohabiting partners, children, someone treated as a child of the family (such as a step-child) or by dependants “maintained by the deceased”. Such claims are for the support needed for someone’s lifetime.

In order to reduce the risk of such a claim on your estate you need to consider carefully who you are providing for in your will and, just as importantly, who you are not. If you are giving financial assistance to someone you need to take advice about the contents of your will. Also, if you are cohabiting with a partner you need to be aware that if you die without a will that the rules of intestacy would not benefit them. Your cohabiting partner would then need to make an Inheritance Act claim which could have been avoided if you had made a will.

You should also keep your will under review and, if your personal circumstances change, seek advice from a solicitor about how to address this. Your solicitor may advise you about writing an explanation for why you are excluding anyone from your will, if you are.

Proprietary Estoppel claims

Proprietary estoppel claims are most commonly associated with farming families, but can arise in other situations. If you make a promise to someone that they will receive property and that person reasonably relies on that promise to their detriment, they may seek to claim on your estate if the promise is not fulfilled. One example could be a child working on the family farm for reduced pay due to assurances that they will inherit the farm on the death of their parents. A later fall out could lead to the farm being left to someone else. In this instance a court may order that the farm passes to the claimant. Each case turns on its own facts.

For these reasons it is important to be open about any promises made. You may wish to sit down with your family and discuss your intentions. You should take legal advice about the necessary steps needed to put any plans into action, such as partnership agreements or declarations of trust. Again, if relationships change it is important to take advice about how best to address this.

Administration disputes

Often disputes can arise in the administration of an estate after someone’s death. It could be between the personal representatives appointed, between the personal representatives and beneficiaries, or between beneficiaries themselves. There could be a disagreement about the assets in the estate, whether there have been any lifetime gifts or whether assets have been correctly valued. For these reasons it assists if you keep a record of your assets and any lifetime gifts made.

You should consider carefully who to appoint as executor when making a will. Your executors are responsible for dealing with your estate after your death. We commonly find that children are appointed, but then the siblings fail to work together. If you do not make a will then the right to administer your estate will fall in accordance with legal rules, so could be your spouse, children or siblings. More than one person could be equally entitled to apply for probate in your estate, which again could give rise to a dispute.

If there is a risk of a dispute arising after your death you may want to consider the appointment of an independent third party, such as a solicitor, who can remain neutral when dealing with the estate. Sintons have the Sintons Trust Corporation and this can be appointed as an independent personal representative or trustee.

The importance of seeking advice

Estate disputes appear to be on the rise, but that does not mean that certain steps cannot be taken to try to avoid them, as suggested above. It is important to seek advice and be open with your solicitor about your personal circumstances, so that they can best advise you about how to deal with any issues that could arise after your death. It is easy to put this off and hope that everything will be okay when you are gone. However, the costs of taking advice during your lifetime will be significantly lower than those incurred by your intended beneficiaries at a later date, should a dispute arise. It is better for all concerned to seek to address any possible issues during your lifetime.

Predatory marriages and wills

On 27 February 2023 the legal age for a person to marry in England and Wales was raised from 16 to 18 years. The law was changed to help protect vulnerable children from being forced into marriage. However, increasingly there are concerns about the older generations and their capacity to marry, which the new law does not address.

What is a predatory marriage?

The term “predatory marriage” refers to the situation where a person enters into a marriage with a vulnerable person, primarily for financial gain. Those targeted often include elderly people and those living with dementia. Although it is difficult to determine the number of predatory marriages taking place campaigners argue that, through a combination of an aging population, the problems facing adult social care and the increasing value of estates, predatory marriages are almost certainly on the rise.

When can a person get married?

The legal test for the capacity to get married or enter into a civil partnership is outlined in the Mental Capacity Act 2005. This states that “a person lacks capacity in relation to a matter if at the material time he is unable to make a decision for himself in relation to the matter because of an impairment of, or a disturbance in the functioning of, the mind or brain”.

The threshold for whether someone has the capacity to consent to marriage is a low one. The court has ruled that for a person to marry they must “understand, retain, use and weigh information as to the reasonably foreseeable financial consequences of a marriage, including that the marriage would automatically revoke his will.”

A marriage or civil partnership entered into by someone who lacks capacity is voidable and can be ended through an annulment or divorce.

What is the impact of a predatory marriage when a person dies?

Under the Wills Act 1837, a marriage or civil partnership automatically revokes an individual’s Will. The exception to this is if they made the Will in contemplation of marriage, and included a specific clause that the Will was not to be revoked on the formation of the marriage or civil partnership.

This legislation often has significant consequences for those people subject to predatory marriages. If the vulnerable person dies after the marriage but without making a new Will, their estate will become subject to the statutory intestacy rules. This means that their new spouse or civil partner would automatically receive the whole, or a  significant proportion, of the estate, depending on its value and whether or not the vulnerable person has children.

Complications can also arise where the vulnerable person intends to make a new Will, but are prohibited from doing so because they have lost capacity. The capacity test for making a Will is higher than the capacity test for marriage. If the vulnerable person lack the capacity to make a new Will, they may be stuck with the rigid and outdated intestacy rules. In these circumstances, the family can make an application to the Court for a statutory Will, but this is a difficult, lengthy and costly process.

What can you do if you have concerns about a family member entering into a predatory marriage?

If you suspect that a family member is entering into a predatory marriage, it is imperative that you communicate your concerns as soon as possible. If the wedding has not yet taken place, you can alert the marriage registrar about the potential marriage. Reporting your concerns to social services or your local authority may also allow room for intervention.

If the wedding has already happened and there is evidence that the person lacked capacity, you should speak to a legal advisor about making an application to the court for an annulment of the marriage.

If the person did have capacity when they married, it is important that they seek advice about making a Will to ensure that their estate passes in accordance with their wishes. This should be done as soon as possible, especially if there is a risk that capacity may be lost soon after the marriage. However, it must be the choice of your loved one to make a new will. If they are deemed to be subject to “undue influence” to make a the new Will, this would make the Will invalid.

Is the law likely to change?

There have been a number of recent calls for legal reforms which greater protect victims of predatory marriage. In 2018 MP Fabian Hamilton presented a Private Members’ Bill (Marriage and Civil Partnership Consent Bill) on the issue to the House of Commons. This was done with the purpose of stopping marriage from automatically revoking previous wills and to introduce harsher laws against predatory marriage. This has not yet progressed any further in Parliament.

Meet the Wills, Trusts & Estates Team with Katie Gosling

What is your role in the team and how long have you been at Sintons?

I am a senior associate in the team and joined in October 2022.

Tell us about your career to date…

I studied for my law degree and later my Masters in Law at the University of Cambridge, gaining first class degrees for both. I completed my post-graduate Legal Practice Course in London, but I always knew I wanted to return home to the North East when I finished my studies and started work.

I have always worked in Newcastle, spending 12 years at international law firm Womble Bond Dickinson before making the move to Sintons. I have specialised in wills, trusts, powers of attorney and inheritance tax planning ever since qualifying as a solicitor in 2012, and the work is still interesting and varied every day.

What attracted you to join Sintons?

In the wake of the post-Covid Great Resignation, most private client teams across the country were struggling to recruit and retain lawyers, and those who remained were struggling to cope with the workload.

Bucking that trend, the Sintons private client team was going from strength to strength, steadily recruiting into the team at all levels and attracting an ever-expanding client base from all over the UK. That made me think Sintons must be doing something right, both for its clients and for its staff.

There is a fine line between being a big enough firm to be able to provide a full service to clients, but not being so big that teams don’t know each other and can’t easily work together, and clients don’t know who their lawyers are. Sintons gets that balance just right.

What does your role involve?

My work involves a full range of lifetime planning including wills, trusts, tax planning, powers of attorney and advance decisions.

I have developed a specialism in trust law and spend a lot of my time advising those who are thinking about creating a trust, and those who are involved with an existing trust whether as a trustee or beneficiary. I can assist with the entire life cycle of a trust, advising on the type of trust to create, the powers and duties of the trustees, options for changing the way people can benefit from the trust, moving assets into and out of the trust, ongoing administrative and compliance matters, and bringing the trust to an end.

I also have a special interest in wills and estate planning for clients with cross-border connections. I regularly act for clients who live overseas and who own assets in England, as well as clients based here who own foreign assets, advising on domicile and applicable law as well as preparing the relevant English documents.

My day to day work involves meeting clients of all backgrounds from entrepreneurs to the very elderly, and from lottery winners to owners of landed estates. I enjoy getting to know them and finding out what is their main motivation for wanting to make a will, create a trust or appoint an attorney, and then working out the best way to achieve their goals.

The law can be complex, and my aim is always to provide advice in a way that is user friendly and meaningful.

What have been your personal highlights to date?

It is satisfying to hear clients say what a relief it is when their will has been updated, or they have made their lasting power of attorney, and they can finally cross this off their list (where it may have been for some time!) safe in the knowledge that they and their loved ones will be looked after in the way they want.

We get to know some clients very well, particularly where there are ongoing matters perhaps relating to a family business, an estate or a family trust, and it is always a highlight to be involved in a family’s long-term planning as a trusted adviser.

Particular highlights that spring to mind include:

  • preparing flexible wills for a couple with children including a severely disabled child, striking a balance between making sufficient financial provision for the needs of the disabled child and still wanting to benefit the other children and to recognise their efforts and kindness in supporting their sibling;
  • advising a very deserving lottery winner on the ways in which they can use their winnings to benefit themselves and their family over the coming years and decades;
  • getting to the bottom of complicated trust documents dating back hundreds of years to enable the trust assets to be used for the benefit of a local hospital.

It was also great to complete my STEP Diploma, recognised worldwide as a mark of excellence in this area of law, and especially to receive one of only two distinctions awarded across the country for my Wills and Administration of Estates exam.

The award-winning Wills, Trusts & Estates team is one of the most highly-rated in the North of England. What are the advantages of being part of it?

I am very proud to be part of a team that has an excellent reputation, in the North and beyond, for providing the very best legal advice and also for being pleasant to work with.

We are a close-knit team covering a range of specialisms, and everyone really knows their stuff with many of us having achieved the STEP qualification. That means there are always interesting ideas to discuss, and there is always someone to answer your questions.

We all work hard and want to be the best we can be, but we also laugh together every day, and that is a breath of fresh air.

How does Sintons differ from other firms you have worked in?

Sintons achieves that elusive combination of providing the highest quality legal advice with a genuinely personal touch.

As well as being independently recognised as experts in our field, we know the importance of getting to know our clients and listening to what each of them wants to achieve, so we understand their priorities and can make sure our work is tailored to their aims.

There’s a great team spirit and everyone across the whole business works together to achieve high standards and to provide a great client service. Unlike elsewhere this seems to happen effortlessly, which in large part is because everyone is based in a single office in Newcastle allowing for true collaboration and collegiality.

Although I’ve only been at Sintons for a few months, I feel very settled and at home here, which is down to the friendliness, supportiveness and enthusiasm of its people.

What are your interests outside of work?

I love music and I sing in my local choir. I have a weakness for buying books, but most of my spare time is spent with my husband and our two little boys so that helps to keep my reading habit under control.

Meet the Wills, Trusts & Estates Team with Emma Saunders

What is your role in the team and how long have you been at Sintons?

I joined Sintons over five years ago to head up the contentious trusts and probate team. I assist clients who find themselves in the midst of a dispute about a deceased person’s estate. It may be there are concerns about the validity of the deceased’s will, or about the provision that has (or has not) been made for somebody on the deceased’s death. Quite often I help clients who are unhappy with the way an estate or trust is being dealt with, such as a lack of information or accounts.

I also advise on disputes in the Court of Protection relating to the assets of those people who have lost the capacity to manage their own financial affairs, and who have, or need, an attorney or deputy assisting them.

Tell us about your career to date…

I studied economics and social policy at Newcastle University and worked in the public and voluntary sectors at the start of my career. I undertook some advice work and through this decided that I wanted to become a solicitor. I completed the law conversion course and LPC at Northumbria University before completing my legal training at a firm in London.

On qualification as a solicitor I specialised in trust and estate disputes, along with contentious Court of Protection matters. I practiced law in London for a number of years before relocating to Newcastle in 2017 and starting at Sintons, where I became a Partner in 2021.

What attracted you to Sintons?

I was attracted to Sintons because the firm was keen to offer a contentious probate specialism to increase the breadth of the firm’s offering to clients and demonstrated a strong commitment to building such a legal practice. I knew the firm had a strong and highly regarded private client team who would support me in developing this growing business area.

I felt that Sintons as a firm was really “on the up” and I wanted to be a part of that development.

What does your role involve?

My role involves advising clients on a range of issues related to the estates and finances of those who have died, or who have lost capacity. I deal with a wide variety of different legal issues and no two cases are the same.

Many of my clients’ cases are resolved through negotiation or mediation, while others require the involvement of the court. It is my role to guide and support clients through the litigation process. Often, clients are distressed and grieving so, along with more traditional legal advice, a lot of time is spent listening to clients and helping them deal with the complex emotions that estate disputes can cause.

What have been your personal highlights to date?

One personal highlight has been resolving a complex will dispute and Inheritance Act claim for a vulnerable client at a mediation. It meant that a court hearing could be avoided, thereby reducing the costs and stress for the client. The settlement achieved will have a positive and lasting impact on the client for the rest of his life.

I am also pleased to have been included as a Band 1 Individual for Private Wealth Disputes in the Chambers High Net Worth legal directory for the North East and Yorkshire, and for Sintons to be one of only four firms ranked for work in this area.

In addition in the Legal 500 solicitors guide we are the only Tier 1 ranked firm in the North.

The award-winning Wills, Trusts & Estates team is one of the most highly-rated in the North of England. What are the advantages of being part of it?

One of the main advantages of being part of our team is that the people involved are knowledgeable, supportive and keen to do the best for clients, but are also fun to work with!

We have a range of expertise within the team, and the wider firm, which means we can tap into specialist areas to provide a comprehensive and cost-effective service to clients.

How does Sintons differ from other firms you have worked in?

Sintons is an incredibly friendly place to work and the firm is committed to retaining that ethos. The firm reward staff through fun treats such as a visit from the ice-cream van in the summer or the pancake van on Shrove Tuesday.

Sintons is able to offer a fantastic range of services to clients while at the same time not being a firm in which you feel lost by the sheer volume of people.

The importance of a will

A will is arguably one of the most important documents you will prepare in your lifetime.

Although it is an easy task to put off, the preparation of a will can provide you with the peace of mind knowing that your assets will pass to your loved ones in accordance with your wishes. A common misconception is that, in the absence of a will, your assets will automatically pass to those closest to you in their entirety.

Without a valid will, your assets will be divided up and distributed in accordance with the statutory “rules of intestacy”. For many people, these rules will not distribute assets in accordance with their wishes. For example, unmarried cohabitants and partners are not included as beneficiaries, nor are step-children. Furthermore, the rules of intestacy do not consider personal relationships between family members and, as such, your estate may be distributed to those who you would not wish to benefit.

By preparing a will, you can appoint one or more individuals to act as an executor/executors after you have passed away. The appointment of such individuals in your will provides you with total control as to who you would like to manage your assets and liabilities, and ultimately distribute your estate, after your death.

There are a number of other important considerations that we can discuss with you during an initial appointment. For example, you may have specific funeral wishes that can be included in your will. Whilst these instructions are not legally binding, they often lessen the burden on those around you to have to make a decision themselves at a difficult time.

Moreover, if you have children who are under the age of 18, you will probably have a preference about how they should be cared for and which assets should be made available to provide for their welfare.  A will enables you to address both of these points by appointing guardians for your children and allocating assets for their benefit.

You may have some personal items, such as jewellery or household goods, that you would like to pass to specific family members, friends or charities after you have died. By including these wishes in your will, you can ensure that your personal items pass to those people in a straightforward manner. In addition, you may wish to outline specific cash sums to be paid to your loved ones or charities following your death.

Similarly, you may have a particular wish in relation to a property that you own. You could include an outright gift of a property in your will, or allow a partner to continue to live in a property once you have passed away.

More and more of us are holding digital assets such as email accounts, loyalty points and music downloads. We can help you to prepare a personal assets log to detail your digital assets to ensure that your executors are able to access your online accounts.

Our specialist team can also discuss inheritance tax allowances and consider whether tax planning may be appropriate for you. Inheritance tax is essentially charged by the government on the estate of any deceased individual where the value of their assets exceed a tax free threshold of £325,000, known as the “nil rate band”. The value of your assets above the nil rate band will be taxed at 40%. However, there are certain inheritance tax reliefs which your estate may be able to benefit from, such as business property relief and agricultural relief. We will consider available reliefs and allowances with you, and your will will be drafted to take advantage of them.

Even if you have a valid will in place, we recommend that you review this every five years or following a significant life event. For example, it is important to remember that marriage will revoke a will unless some very specific wording has been included. As such, if you are newly married or planning a wedding, the preparation of new wills is an essential consideration. Likewise, if you are recently separated or divorced, we would be happy to discuss updating your will to reflect your current wishes.

By creating or updating your will you can provide your family with the peace of mind that your wishes will be clear once you have passed away. A well drafted will also has the benefit of reducing the stress of sorting out your affairs after your death and reducing the likelihood of disputes.

If you would like to discuss the preparation of a new will or if you are considering updating your will, our award winning team of specialist solicitors are here to guide you through this process.

Please get in touch with us today for more information.