Category Archive: Personal and Family

An introduction to Trusts – what is a Trust?

In the first of his regular blogs, solicitor Ed Liddell from our Wills, Trusts and Estates Team explains what a trust is.

Trusts, all to often, conjure up images of palatial estates, landed gentry and Hollywood films featuring teenagers ‘vacationing’ in Europe. They also have an air of mystery. The truth is that trusts can be relevant and suitable to anyone depending on their circumstances.

Trusts are, at their most simple, a formal arrangement by which an asset is given to someone to hold and manage for the benefit of someone else. The person who looks after the asset is known as the ‘trustee’ and the person for whom they are looking after the asset is known as the ‘beneficiary’.

Trusts are usually created in one of two ways – either on your death by your will or during your lifetime by way of a deed.

It is not possible to list all the circumstances in which a trust might be appropriate for you, but a common example is if you wish to leave money to a person in your will who lacks the capacity to manage the funds themselves. In this case, the trustees would look after the money on behalf of the beneficiary and make decisions in the best interests of the beneficiary when it comes to how the asset is invested and paid out.

Another reason may be to protect assets in the event of a family member going through a divorce or bankruptcy. For example, you may have planned to leave your estate to your children in your will but currently one of your children is experiencing marital difficulties. Should you die and then your child subsequently goes through a divorce, the share of your estate that has passed to the child would count amongst their assets when it comes to any financial settlement. To mitigate against this, you could create a trust within your will so that a share of the estate does not pass to your child directly but is held on trust for them.

There are many other reasons to create a trust either during your lifetime or in your will – tax planning, to ensure an inheritance is held until a child reaches a certain age, to look after a spouse during their lifetime but to then ensure the assets pass to your children or other chosen beneficiaries, to name but a few.

In my next post, I will outline the process of creating a trust during your lifetime but please do not hesitate to contact a member of Sintons award winning Wills, Trusts and Estates Team should you wish to discuss creating a trust in the meantime.

Applications to the Court of Protection for Authority to Purchase and Sell Property

A Deputy appointed to manage a person’s (P’s) property and financial affairs can act only within the specific authority granted by the Court of Protection Order.

This means that should an instance arise in which a Deputy is required to sell or purchase property on behalf of P, they must ensure that they have authority to do so before proceeding.

Authority to purchase and sell property on behalf of P may be included in the Order appointing the Deputy. However, if it is not then the Deputy must seek the appropriate authority from the Court of Protection before acting on P’s behalf.

Purchasing Property:

Circumstances in which a Deputy might be required to purchase property on behalf of P may arise where P has received settlement funds from a personal injury claim and wishes to use these funds to purchase a property. Similarly, there may be instances in which P’s current residence is unsuitable and alternative accommodation is required. Whatever the circumstances, it is important that the Deputy has the authority from the Court of Protection.

If the Order appointing the Deputy doesn’t include authority to purchase a property, then it will be necessary to apply to the Court for permission. An application to the Court of Protection to purchase property must explain the reasons why the Deputy requires such authority and should detail exactly how the purchase of a property will benefit P.

For example, it may be that P’s current accommodation is rented and is wholly unsuitable to meet P’s needs. Where possible, a Deputy should provide evidence of such unsuitability to the Court. In addition, the Deputy should set out the costs associated and satisfy the Court that a property purchase is affordable and in P’s best interests.

A suitable property does not need to be identified for P before the application is made. It would be prudent of the Deputy to submit an application to the Court of Protection as soon as it is established that a property will need to be purchased for P in the future. If authority has not been sought prior to a suitable property being identified for P, the Deputy runs the risk of P losing the property to another potential buyer. In these circumstances the Deputy can make an urgent application to the Court of Protection. However, it is at the Court’s discretion to determine whether the matter is urgent or not.

If the Court approves the application to purchase property, an Order will be issued confirming that the Deputy has authority to purchase property on behalf of P. Upon completion of the purchase, the Deputy must enter a restriction to HM Land Registry that no disposition of the registered estate made during P’s lifetime shall be completed by the registration without the authority of the Court of Protection.

The Deputy should also update the Office of the Public Guardian and provide copies of the title documents. Should P move into the property straightaway, all relevant parties will need to be notified of a change of address.

Selling Property:

Where a Deputy has the authority to purchase property on P’s behalf, it should not be assumed that they also have the authority to sell property.

Where property is jointly owned, the owners are referred to as the trustees of that property.

In circumstances in which an individual who lacks capacity owns property and a Deputy is in place, an important consideration for the Deputy is how to deal with that property.

Section 20(3)(c) Mental Capacity Act 2005 restricts Deputies from carrying out trustee functions. This means that if property is jointly owned and one of the owners has lost capacity, the Deputy must make an application to the Court of Protection under S.36(9) Trustee Act 1925 to seek permission to appoint a trustee in place of the incapable person before the property can be sold.

This application to the Court should set out evidence of why the sale should go ahead and what will happen to P’s share of the proceeds of the sale. Only once a new trustee has been appointed in place of P can the sale go ahead.

The Court of Protection has recently issued guidance for Deputies who intend to sell P’s property when P is in a care home. Before agreeing to allow the sale of P’s property, the Court of Protection must be satisfied that the correct DOLS authorisation is in place. As such, copies of best interest decisions and standard authorisations from the Local Authority should form part of the Deputy’s application to the Court.

Can Property be Gifted?

Similar, to selling or purchasing property, a Deputy must ensure that they have authority from the Court of Protection before gifting a property owned by P.

If an application to the Court of Protection is necessary, a Deputy must provide capacity evidence which specifically relates to the decision in question. Here, that question would be, whether P has the requisite capacity to make a gift.

Alongside capacity evidence, the Deputy must provide evidence that the gift is:

  • Affordable
  • Reasonable
  • Proportionate to the size of P’s estate

It is also important that P is involved in the decision-making process where possible. P’s best interests must always be at the heart of any decision-making.

There are a number of circumstances where gifting property may not be suitable. For example, there may come a time where P’s Deputy is required to sell P’s property to ensure care fees can be met. If P’s property is gifted to another, P may later struggle to fund their care. In this scenario, should P then apply for funding from the Local Authority to help with their care fees, P could be deemed to have deprived themselves of capital or assets (the property), in which case they will not receive financial support from the Local Authority, leaving P in a very vulnerable financial position.

Substantial gifts should always be approached with caution and considered thoroughly before proceeding with an application to the Court of Protection for approval.

Decision making in relation to all of the above should always be recorded by the Deputy and submitted to the Office of the Public Guardian as part of their yearly Deputy Report.

If you would like further information or advice regarding the Court of Protection or assistance with an application, please do not hesitate to contact Caitlin Edwards on 0191 226 3749. Alternatively, you can contact any other member of our Court of Protection team on 0191 226 7878.

A live Q&A with Sinton’s Family team – Episode 8

In episode 8 of our monthly live Q&A sessions with Sintons family team, solicitor Sophie Dodds 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.

Private client specialist Ed Liddell joins Sintons

The specialist wills, trusts and estates team at Sintons is continuing to expand through the appointment of a new solicitor to its team.

Ed Liddell, a specialist in a range of private client matters, is relocating back to his native North East to join the award-winning team.

An affiliate member of the Society of Trusts and Estate Practitioners (STEP), Ed advises on matters including the preparation of complex wills, lasting powers of attorney, trusts, and the administration of estates.

He joins Sintons at a time of strong growth for the wills, trusts and probate team, which is receiving increasing numbers of instructions as a result of its national reputation.

“I am delighted to join a private client team which is recognised throughout the UK for its technical expertise and is committed to providing an outstanding level of service to each and every client,” says Ed.

“I look forward to working with my colleagues to build the capability and reputation of Sintons even further on a national basis.”

Paul Nickalls, head of wills, trusts and estates at Sintons – who is regularly named by Legal 500 and Chambers as being one of the leading private client lawyers in the North of England – said: “We are delighted to welcome Ed to our growing team.

“For more than 125 years, Sintons has been entrusted by generations of the same families to help them plan and safeguard for the future, and the number of new clients who are turning to us for advice is growing all the time.

“Our levels of expertise and experience, particularly in high value matters, mean that we are appointed in matters of the highest complexity. When this is combined with the reputation that we have earned in delivering the best possible service to each and every client, the result is that we are the private client advisor of choice for more and more individuals nationally.

“We look forward to working with Ed as we continue to take the department forward, while maintaining our core values of legal and service excellence.”

Conveyancing specialist Sarah Ellis joins Sintons

The growing conveyancing team at Sintons has expanded again with the appointment of a new property lawyer.

Sarah Ellis has almost two decades of experience in the legal sector and has specialised in residential property for a number of years.

She is well known for acting for private buyers, businesses and investors alike and handles the full spectrum of transactional matters.

Sarah, who has relocated to Newcastle having previously worked in Essex and Suffolk, is the latest addition to Sintons’ specialist conveyancing team, which continues to expand on the strength of demand for its expertise.

“I’m excited to join a firm like Sintons, which has an enviable reputation for its residential property expertise and a national presence in the market,” says Sarah.

“Its focus on delivering an outstanding legal and personal service to each and every client is very important to me and I look forward to working with the team to continue to develop that reputation and presence in the field even further.”

The team is led by partner Anna Barton, who adds: “Our department continues to receive increasing levels of new business from across the country, and as this demand continues, we will grow our team accordingly.

“We take immense pride in the quality of service we deliver, and through growing the capacity and capability within our team, we have the opportunity to meet even more demand nationally for our conveyancing services.

“We are very pleased to welcome Sarah to the team and look forward to working with her.”

Chambers hails Sintons’ private client team for high net worth expertise

The award winning private client team at Sintons has again been hailed as one of the leading advisors in the North of England, with Chambers continuing to praise the department for its legal capability and commitment to the highest possible standard of client care.

The specialist wills, trusts and estates team, which is one of the largest in the region, acts for clients throughout the UK in matters including wills, trusts, administration of estates and probate disputes, and has a national reputation for both its contentious and non-contentious work.

In newly released rankings, Chambers again rates the team in the top tiers for its work in private wealth law and private wealth disputes, praising its client-centric approach and the legal excellence that runs throughout the entire team.

Paul Nickalls, partner and head of private client at Sintons, alongside Emma Saunders, partner and head of contentious probate, continue to be hailed as go-to experts in their specialist areas of law by Chambers.  Both are regularly independently recognised for their capability and are widely regarded as leading advisors in the North of England. Partner Paul Collingwood and solicitor Emelie Rowell are also highlighted for their technical knowledge and excellent client service.

Chambers carries out an annual, independent ranking of law firms and lawyers, assessing all aspects of their specialism and service, based on examples of work, testimonials and interviews with lawyers.

“We are rightly regarded as being a team at the very top of its game, with huge levels of experience and expertise alongside outstanding young lawyers whose dynamism and ability is helping us to plan for the future,” says Paul.

“We are proud of our reputation for excellence, which we have worked very hard to earn, and our absolute commitment remains to deliver an outstanding service to each and every client.  Independent endorsement, like this one from Chambers, serves to confirm the standing we have in the marketplace – both regionally and nationally – and is recognition of the expertise that the firm possesses in this area of law.

“We are regularly instructed in matters of the highest complexity and value, which is where our expertise comes to the fore and why we are often appointed ahead of other advisors in what is a very crowded marketplace.  We are very proud to be regarded in the highest of terms and to again receive such praise from Chambers.”

Notable Chambers comments:

“The experience and capabilities of their team are varied and extensive,” says a source. “The team is very competent, diligent, and experienced,” adds a commentator.

Paul Nickalls is head of the wills, trust and probate team at the firm. He also leads the personal and family team. Nickalls is “an absolute top-quality lawyer who is so easy to deal with,” says a source. A commentator adds: “Paul consistently delivers and is a highly experienced private client lawyer.”

Emma Saunders is highly experienced in contentious probate and Court of Protection matters. A source says: “Her guidance, experience and knowledge are commendable and impeccable. She is decisive, efficient and very responsive. I would not hesitate to recommend her to anyone.” Her expertise includes trust disputes and Inheritance Act 1975 claims.

Paul Collingwood, a partner specialising in wills, trusts, and the administration of estates, is “very supportive, attentive and has a brilliant client manner. He instils trust and confidence,” states a source.

Emelie Rowell “has given pragmatic, honest advice. She has the client’s interests at heart and pursues matters in a robust and tenacious fashion. She is an excellent communicator, and a highly knowledgeable professional in her field. She is calm, understanding and determined,” states a source. Emelie specialises in contentious wills, trusts and estate matters.

Tyneside Flats

Here in the northeast, there are a lot of two storey buildings which consist of two flats, a ground floor flat and an upstairs flat.  Each flat will have its own front and back doors, and there are no common areas in the building which are used by both flats.

Most of these types of flats are set up on what is known as a Tyneside flat arrangement. There are two different types of Tyneside flat arrangements, the North Tyneside flat arrangement, which is the most popular, and the South Tyneside flat arrangement.

In a North Tyneside flat arrangement, both of the flats in the building are granted leases which contain the same provisions, rights and covenants. There is a standard lease template which is commonly used. The leases grant each flat owner rights over the other flat to carry out maintenance works and rights over any shared access ways to the front and rear of the building. They also require each flat owner to insure their property in the joint names of themselves and the owner of the other flat.

The freehold title for the building is then divided into two separate titles. The freehold of the ground floor flat is registered to the owner of the first floor flat, and the freehold of the first floor flat is registered to the owner of the ground floor flat. This creates a crossover effect, and means that each flat owner is the other flat’s landlord, and they can therefore enforce all of the same rights and covenants in the leases against each other as and when required.

The leases are often granted for a term of 999 years. The ground rent is a peppercorn, which is of nominal value. The owner of the ground floor flat will be responsible for maintaining their flat and the foundations of the building, while the owner of the first floor flat will be responsible for maintaining their flat together with the roof and roof void. There is shared responsibility for anything like gutters, pipes and drains which service the whole building, so both flat owners would have to contribute towards any maintenance costs required.

The end result is that the owner of the ground floor flat will have two legal titles: the leasehold title for the ground floor flat and the freehold title for the first floor flat. At the same time, the owner of the first floor flat will also have two legal titles: the leasehold title for the first floor flat and the freehold title for the ground floor flat.

It’s really important for this arrangement to be kept up when either of the flats are sold to a new owner. There will be provisions in both leases to make sure that when the leasehold title for one of the flats is sold, they also transfer the freehold in the other flat to the new buyer so that the North Tyneside flat arrangement continues.

There are clauses in the leases called “attorney clauses” which are built in to help resolve any problems with transferring the legal titles should there be an issue, for example if one of the flats has been sold but the freehold in the other flat has remained in the original owner’s name instead of being transferred to the new owner.

This type of arrangement is sometimes used in other parts of the country, but it tends to be most common in the northeast. If you’re selling or buying a Tyneside flat, it can be helpful to instruct a local solicitor as they are likely to have come across this set up many times before and they know what they’re looking for.

Sometimes we do come across a South Tyneside flat arrangement. This is different because instead of creating the crossover effect, one of the flat owners will own the freehold of the whole building subject to a lease of the other flat. This means that one flat owner will have a freehold title, and the other flat owner will have a leasehold title for their flat. The outcome is that one flat owner is the landlord and the other is the tenant.

Although the lease will specify that both the landlord and the tenant have to abide by the same covenants and can enforce the same rights on each other, it doesn’t carry the same feeling of equality between the flat owners as the North Tyneside flat arrangement does. There is sometimes a ground rent payable by the tenant, though this is usually for a small amount each year.

Mortgage lenders tend not to like this type of arrangement as they view the owner of the freehold of the building as owning a freehold flat. Although this is technically not the case, sometimes lenders can refuse to lend as the arrangement does not match their criteria.  If you do have a South Tyneside flat arrangement for your property, it is sometimes beneficial to agree with the owner of the other flat to surrender the current lease and to set up a North Tyneside flat arrangement from scratch.

Tyneside flat arrangements have been used now for many years and have been proven to be a great, workable legal precedent for this type of building. Although the concept can seem confusing at first, once you see it in practice it does all become clear.

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

A live Q&A with Sinton’s Family team – Episode 7

In episode 7 of our monthly live Q&A sessions with Sintons family team, solicitor Sophie Dodds 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.

Sintons secures CQS accreditation for the tenth time

Law firm Sintons has secured the prestigious Law Society Conveyancing Quality Scheme (CQS) accreditation for the tenth time, in recognition of its high standards in residential conveyancing.

The CQS, is a recognised quality standard which acts as an endorsement of outstanding client service and compliance with core practice management standards.

Sintons has now secured the accreditation for the tenth time, confirming its longstanding commitment to delivering the highest standards to every client.

The conveyancing team, led by partner Anna Barton, is regarded in the highest terms for its legal and service excellence.

The team is regularly appointed to handle high-value and complex property matters in the North East and well beyond, with a significant portion of its work coming from London.

“CQS accreditation is a highly esteemed endorsement of the quality of our offering and the fact we have now secured this for ten years is something we are really proud of at Sintons,” says Anna.

“We pride ourselves on delivery of the very highest standards in each and every matter and invest the time and effort to build relationships with our clients. This leads to long-lasting relationships and lies at the root of the trust clients place in our team and in the Sintons brand.

“Regularly, we are appointed by multiple generations of families to oversee their property matters, and we also act for many investors on a national basis, who continue to come to us based on the quality of service they receive.

“We have built our reputation in this field throughout Sintons’ 126-year history and are very proud of the work we continue to do and the progress we continue to make as a department. To secure CQS accreditation again further confirms the quality we are achieving.”

A live Q&A with Sinton’s Family team – Episode 6

In episode 6 of our monthly live Q&A sessions with Sintons family team, solicitor Sophie Dodds 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.

Leasehold Properties

Most flats and apartments, and even some houses, will have a leasehold title. If you’re buying a leasehold property, there will be a lot more paperwork involved in your purchase and a lot more information to consider.

When you purchase a leasehold property, you will own the property for the fixed period of time that is specified in the lease. It is therefore important to know exactly how many years are remaining on the lease when you buy the property, especially if you’re getting a mortgage. Most mortgage lenders will require at least 70 years to be left on the lease, though every lender has different requirements. It’s advisable to extend the lease if the term remaining is getting close to 80 years. Make sure you’re thinking ahead when considering how long is left on the lease, and the impact this will have when you come to sell or remortgage the property in the future.

Your lease will define you as the ‘tenant’ and will make reference to your ‘landlord’ which is the person or company who owns the freehold or superior title out of which your lease has been granted.

Your lease will specify the rights which have been granted to you, covenants which you must abide by, and will identify what’s included in your property with reference to a plan. Please make sure you check the plan as it should show the layout of the property, and if any changes have been made since the lease was granted then you’ll need to ensure that the landlord gave consent for these changes.

Most leases require you to obtain permission from the landlord before making any structural alterations or additions to the property and require you to be responsible for maintaining the property itself. Always remember that you don’t own a leasehold property outright, you are essentially renting it on a long-term basis from the landlord, and so you must abide by the terms of the lease and get consent for works you intend to do.

You may be required to pay an annual ground rent, and you must check the amount of ground rent payable and whether this is due to increase during the term of the lease, as sometimes this can cause problems. You may also need to contribute towards maintenance costs of the building as a whole and any common parts. This is often called a “service charge”.

Check the lease so that you know whether your landlord is responsible for putting buildings insurance or whether this is your responsibility. If the leasehold property is a house or a flat within a small building with an upstairs flat and a downstairs flat, then it is likely that you’ll be responsible for your own buildings insurance. Most other leasehold properties, i.e. an apartment in a large block of flats, should specify that the landlord is responsible for insuring the whole building, and each flat owner has to contribute towards the cost of the insurance.

Before you buy a leasehold property, you need to take into account all of the costs involved with the property and make sure that it is still affordable. Service charges can escalate over time and you need to be prepared for expenditure to potentially increase during your ownership. If the building needs any major works to be carried out, for example roofing works or structural works, then you will be expected to contribute towards the cost of these along with all of the other flat owners in the building.

Some larger blocks of flats will be run by managing agents who specialise in managing developments and will look after things on behalf of the landlord. Smaller buildings might be managed by the owners of the flats within the building on a more informal basis. It may be that some money has been set aside over the months and years to cover any big expenditure that’s needed. This is called a reserve fund. If you’re buying a flat that’s in a larger block of flats it’s a good idea to check whether there’s a reserve fund and, if so, how much is currently in it, as this might be needed to cover the cost of any works.

If your landlord is planning to carry out maintenance works to the building that are going to cost a substantial amount, then they have to consult the flat owners and give them notice of their intention to carry out the works. If you’re buying a property that has ongoing works being carried out, it’s important to establish the cost of the works and negotiate with your seller as to who is going to be responsible for paying for the works.

When you are buying or selling a leasehold property, there will be extra disbursements payable along the way. Unfortunately your solicitor won’t be able to advise you of the exact amounts payable until the transaction is underway. This is because every leasehold transaction is different and it will depend on who the landlord is and how the lease is structured. Generally, a seller will have to pay a fee to the landlord or their managing agents for a management pack to be supplied to the buyer’s solicitors and if there is a licence to assign required the seller will also have to pay for this. On completion, the buyer will have to pay a notice fee to the landlord to confirm that they now own the property and to give details of any mortgage that has been secured over the property. A buyer might also have to pay a further fee to the landlord if a deed of covenant is required or a certificate of compliance is needed to comply with a restriction on the Register.

All of these considerations should be taken into account before you proceed with the purchase of a leasehold property. Make sure you have read all of the information provided to you and ask questions if you don’t understand anything. It can be quite daunting as there’s a lot to take in. Remember, you are not legally committed to a purchase until contracts have been exchanged, so take the time to consider everything in full before you decide to go ahead.

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

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 aged 16 and has provided me with lots of advice and wisdom since – I owe a lot to him. Prior to joining the firm I worked part-time as a customer assistant at Boots.

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.

I work closely with the firm’s Neurotrauma team on catastrophic injury cases. 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 People’s Kitchen.

What have been your personal highlights to date?

I am currently assisting one of my clients in planning their wedding. It is a privilege to be involved in such a milestone event.

I have also been lucky enough to have been invited to various events, such as the WonderLAN Ball!

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 supervisors, Sophie Moore and Paul Collingwood, are fantastic and have supported me in managing my own case load and ensuring that my work is as varied as possible. I have learnt so much in the short time I have been with the firm.

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. Everybody is genuinely so friendly which creates an excellent working environment.

What are your interests outside of work?

I am a member of a local cheerleading team and also volunteer with Smart Works Newcastle, which is a fantastic charity that supports women into employment in the North East. I have just moved into my first home so currently my main hobbies involve lots of DIY!

Purchasing a Residential Property

The most Important thing to bear in mind when you are buying a property is to make as many enquiries and investigations as you feel are necessary before you commit yourself to an exchange of contracts. This is probably the biggest investment you will ever make in your life, so make sure you take the time to consider all of the paperwork carefully, ask questions wherever you are unsure, and look into all aspects of the property. Always remember the saying “let the buyer beware”, which means that the onus is on you to make thorough investigations and ask the relevant questions.

Provide your solicitor with as much information about your circumstances from the outset, i.e. how you are funding the purchase, who will be the legal owners of the property, whether anyone else will be living at the property with you, or whether it is a buy to let. This will enable your solicitor to let you know what information and documents you will need to provide early on, so that any issues can be resolved quickly and won’t hold the process up further down the line. If you’re getting a gift or loan from a family member or friend to help you fund your purchase, make sure you disclose full details of this both to your solicitor and to your mortgage lender.

Please bear in mind that your solicitor does not have the opportunity to see the property so you need to let them know about any changes or alterations that have been made to the property so that they can check that all the necessary certificates and approvals are in place. If you have any future plans for the property it’s also really useful to let your solicitor know about these, then your solicitor can check that there are no restrictions on the legal title which could prevent you from carrying out your plans. Examples are if you know you’re going to build an extension or demolish a garage.

You’ll need to pay some money on account so that your solicitor can apply for your searches. We would always recommend that you have a survey carried out too, and your surveyor will be able to advise you on what type of survey best suits the property you are buying.

If you are getting a mortgage, you will need to make a mortgage application and your lender will carry out a valuation. Once your mortgage offer has been issued, a copy will be sent to you and to your solicitors.

You can let your solicitor know if there is anything specific you would like them to look into or find out about the property. It’s important to keep communicating with your solicitor so that they know about any concerns you have or if there’s anything you’re unsure about. They will help to guide you through the process.

Once your solicitor has received all of the contract documentation and replies to enquiries from your seller’s solicitors, your search results, and your mortgage offer, they will send you a written report to summarise all of the information and make you aware of any potential issues. Make sure you read your report carefully and flag up anything that you think might cause you a problem in the future. There are often solutions that can be found and the majority of issues can be resolved.

If you’re buying a leasehold property then there will be a lot more paperwork involved and you will need to take into consideration any ground rent and service charge payable in relation to the property before deciding whether the purchase is financially right for you. Your solicitor will also let you know if there are any anticipated major works which are planned to be carried out to the building, as the owners of the flats in the building will be required to contribute towards the cost of any such works and these can sometimes be significant.

Once you’re happy with everything, sign and return your documents. Your solicitor will hold these on file until a completion date has been agreed and they know that all of your funds are in place. You can then give your authority to exchange contracts, from which point you will be liable for the buildings insurance for the property (unless it’s a flat, in which case the insurance is likely to be put in place by the freeholder or landlord) and you will be legally bound to complete on the agreed date.

If you’re selling and buying at the same time, you will need to make sure you have removals in place for the date of completion before you exchange contracts. If you’re involved in a chain it can sometimes be difficult to get a date agreed by all of the parties in the chain, and you should be prepared to be flexible wherever possible.

On the day of completion you won’t be able to get the keys for your new property until your seller’s solicitors have received all of the purchase monies from your solicitor. You may also need to wait until your seller has moved out, especially if your seller has an onward purchase themselves. The seller should vacate the property by 2pm at the latest. Once completion has taken place and you’ve got your keys, the property is yours and you can start to move in!

Your solicitor will deal with registering your ownership at the Land Registry, and will send you a copy of the updated Register showing you are the registered proprietor and that any mortgage you have is also registered against the title. The registration process can sometimes take quite a while, so don’t worry if you don’t hear anything from your solicitor about this straight away.

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

A live Q&A with Sinton’s Family team – Episode 5

In episode 5 of our monthly live Q&A sessions with Sintons family team, solicitor Sophie Dodds 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.

Sintons announces Private Client promotions

The strength and capability of SintonsPrivate Client Department has again been highlighted with the promotion of three of its key people.

Paul Collingwood, a specialist private client lawyer, has been promoted to partner, in recognition of his outstanding technical ability and commitment to providing the highest standard of service for his clients.

Since joining Sintons, Paul – ranked by both Legal 500 and Chambers as an emerging talent in his field – has played a key role in the strong development of the Wills, Trusts and Probate Team.

Also in the Wills, Trusts and Probate Team, Lauren Fraser has been promoted to associate.

In her four years with Sintons, Lauren has progressed strongly, becoming a key part of the specialist, award-winning team.

In addition to her ongoing achievements in her legal work at Sintons, Lauren was named the STEP Excellence Awards Winner 2020 in recognition of achieving the highest marks in the world for her administration of estates assessment.

In Sintons’ Residential Conveyancing Team, Suzanne Dixon has been named as a senior associate.

Suzanne plays a central role in the ongoing development of the law firm’s residential property offering, acting for buyers and purchasers across the country and handling the most complex of transactions with outstanding capability.

Paul Nickalls, head of the Private Client at Sintons, said the promotions help to reflect the excellence that runs throughout the department.

“We have a well-deserved reputation for our strength across all aspects of our private client offering – which comprises family law, alongside residential conveyancing and wills, trusts and probate – and the committed, talented team we continue to develop,” he says.

“Regularly, we are appointed in high value, highly complex matters by clients across the country, who come to us on the strength of the service we continue to deliver in each and every matter – and this is only made possible by the excellent people we have.

“We are very pleased to reward the efforts of Paul, Suzanne and Lauren with promotion. Each of them has developed a very well-earned reputation in their own right as specialists in their field, and we are delighted they are part of the continued development of Sintons’ Private Client Department.”

Sintons continues its expansion with the announcement of promotions

Law firm Sintons continues its expansion with the announcement of six promotions across the different areas of its business.

The promotions, involving two new partners, one senior associate and three associates, recognise the talent, commitment and dedication of the individuals concerned in their specialist fields of work.

Corporate lawyer Emma Pern and private client specialist Paul Collingwood have each been promoted to partner.

Both have been instrumental in the growth and development of their respective teams and in overseeing complex matters on behalf of clients from across the UK.

Sintons has also promoted residential conveyancing specialist Suzanne Dixon to senior associate and has named three new associates – private client solicitor Lauren Fraser, dispute resolution lawyer Adam Hutton and Neurotrauma specialist Nicki Waugh.

The two new Sintons’ partners spoke of their delight at their promotion.

“It feels great to be recognised for all my hard work, but I could not have done this without the support of everyone at Sintons, my clients and my contacts. I’m looking forward to this next stage in my career,” said Emma.

Paul said: “Being promoted to partner means a great deal to me, especially in a firm like Sintons. It is a great place to work and to progress within.

“I have been supported throughout my career here and I really look forward to the future and the different challenges that my promotion will bring.”

On becoming a senior associate, Suzanne said: “I’m so pleased and proud. It reflects my hard work and dedication, and the support that I’ve had from my supervisors and colleagues along the way.”

Sintons’ new associates also spoke of their pride at the recognition of their efforts.

“I am delighted to have been promoted to associate in the private client team said Lauren.

“The firm has been incredibly supportive of my professional development, and I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to be part of its growth, both regionally and nationally.”

Adam said: “This is a firm that is committed to investing in its employees to allow them to grow and progress in their careers.

“The dispute resolution department has an excellent reputation and I look forward to contributing to its growth and development whilst continuing to work with new and existing clients.”

Nicki added: “It means a lot to receive recognition for the work I do. I thank the firm for the support and encouragement they have given to me in achieving this goal.”

Christopher Welch, managing partner of Sintons, said: “We are lucky to have talented and committed people throughout Sintons. As an Investor in People we believe in nurturing and supporting all our people and encouraging them to achieve their full potential. It is a privilege each year to be able to reward the outstanding efforts we have seen with promotion.

“Emma and Paul have been with Sintons for a number of years and have excelled in their respective fields, becoming trusted advisors to clients from across the country and supporting them in some milestone moments in their lives. I am delighted to welcome them both as partners in the firm.

“Suzanne, Lauren, Adam and Nicki have all shown outstanding dedication to their clients and their roles, playing a key part in their growth and development of their respective teams.

“We wish them all the very best of luck as they continue to progress their careers at Sintons.”

Selling a Residential Property

The key to a smooth sale is to supply your buyers with all of the relevant information about your property as early as possible.  It is therefore a good idea to instruct a solicitor early on in the process so that you can start to pull together all of the information you are going to need to supply.

You will be asked to complete a Property Information Form and a Fittings and Contents Form, which is a list of items that are either included in the sale price or that you are taking with you. If your property is leasehold then a Leasehold Information Form will also need to be completed.

Some of the questions in these forms can be quite daunting but most are straightforward. The questions cover everything from who is responsible for maintaining the boundaries of the property, to whether there have been any disputes, what works have been carried out to the property, whether there has been any instances of flooding or environmental issues, and who currently lives at the property. If there’s anyone over the age of 17 who lives at the property and who is not a registered owner then they will be asked to sign the Contract to confirm that they will move out of the property on the day of completion. It’s important that you answer the questions truthfully and to the best of your knowledge and understanding. You should ask your solicitor if you are not sure about anything.

You will need any documents relating to work that has been carried out on your property.  These may be planning permissions, building regulation approvals and completion certificates, covenant consents and guarantees. If your property has had work carried out such as an extension, loft conversion, conservatory added, replacement double glazing, replacement boiler, electrical works, and cavity wall insulation all of these works will have need either planning permission, building regulation approval or both.

If your property is in a conservation area or is a listed building, then further documents will be needed.

If your property is leasehold (i.e. most flats are leasehold) then your solicitor will need to obtain replies to leasehold enquiries from your freeholder or your management company (or their managing agents, the ones who send you invoices for ground rent and service charges). Please note that with leasehold properties, there are often fees payable to the freeholder or management company for supplying their replies to leasehold enquiries and your solicitor will let you know the amount payable once they find out this information.

You can negotiate with your buyer for items of furniture or white goods to be left at the property for an agreed price (on top of the sale price) and it is best to let your solicitor know about any such agreements so that details of the items and prices agreed can be added to the Contract. This makes the agreed prices part of the legally binding contract so both you and your buyer know exactly what items are to be left at the property on completion and the price which is to be paid for the items.

Most properties are registered with HM Land Registry which means that your solicitor will be able to obtain copies of the Register, Title Plan and any other relevant documents directly from the Land Registry. If your property is unregistered, then you will need to find the title deeds for the property (which may be stored with a solicitor or with a mortgage lender).

Your solicitor will send what is known as the “contract documentation” to the buyer’s solicitors, which includes a draft Contract, the registered or unregistered title documents, and your completed Forms together with all of the documents you have supplied.

Once your buyer’s solicitors have seen the contract documentation, they may have some more questions to ask and they will raise some “enquiries”.  Your solicitor will work through these enquiries with you so that they can be dealt with as quickly as possible. If there are any legal issues then your solicitor may be able to deal with these on your behalf, but if the enquiries relate to the property itself then you will need to reply to them.

Your solicitor will send you the Contract and Transfer for signature. You will need to sign the Transfer before an independent witness, who has to be someone who is not related to you or involved with the transaction. Once you have signed these documents and returned them to your solicitor, it does not mean that you have entered into a legal contract as of yet. Your solicitor will hold these signed documents on file until everything is ready and a date has been agreed, and will then ask for your authority to exchange contracts in readiness for completion. Only give your authority to exchange contracts when you are happy with everything and you know that you are definitely able to move out of your property on the day of completion (i.e. you have removals booked and you have somewhere to move to) as once contracts have been exchanged you are legally bound to complete on the agreed date and if you can’t do this you will incur financial penalties.

If you have a mortgage secured over your property, it is important that you provide your solicitor with the name of your mortgage lender and your mortgage account details early in the process as your solicitor will need to obtain a redemption statement from your lender to ensure that there is sufficient equity to redeem the mortgage. Your solicitor will get an initial statement at the start of the process for information purposes and then, once a completion date has been agreed, they will get a statement which is calculated to the completion date so they know the exact figure required by your lender to repay your mortgage on the day of completion.

Finally, on the day of completion, you will need to ensure that you have cleared everything out of the property which is not included in the sale. You must remove all rubbish and leave the property in a clean and tidy condition by 2pm at the latest. Everyone who lives at the property must move out on so that you can give vacant possession (unless the sale is subject to an ongoing tenancy). It’s a good idea to take meter readings for the gas and electricity. You can then either leave your keys with the estate agents or hand them over directly to the buyer, but please don’t have any keys directly to the buyer until your solicitor has confirmed that the monies have arrived safely from the buyer’s solicitors.

Suzanne Dixon is an Associate in the residential conveyancing department at Sintons. To speak to Suzanne, please contact her at suzanne.dixon@sintons.co.uk or 0191 226 7805.

A live Q&A with Sinton’s Family team – Episode 4

In episode 4 of our monthly live Q&A sessions with Sintons family team, solicitor Sophie Dodds 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.

Agriculture and Estates offering continues to develop at Sintons

Specialists from across Sintons are helping to drive forward the firm’s specialist agriculture and estates team, which continues to grow its profile and case load across the North of England.

The team has built trust with rurally-based families and businesses over the course of generations, with Sintons’ presence in rural and farming communities spanning much of its 126-year history.

The firm’s legal expertise and outstanding client service has made it the legal advisor of choice for people across several generations of families and business ownership, and its presence continues to grow across the North of England on the strength of its reputation.

Bringing together expertise and leading lawyers from across a number of Sintons practice areas, the agriculture and estates team – headed by Tom Wills – has made significant gains in the past few years in particular.

The firm’s specialism is widely known and respected in what is a very niche area of law, where few firms are recognised as having the capability and knowledge to truly serve the unique needs of rural communities.

Bringing in expertise from a host of specialisms, Sintons offers bespoke support in family law, real estate, contentious and non-contentious private client work, dispute resolution, regulatory and business matters, and commercial work.

Key team members comprise Alan Dawson, the firm’s chairman who has been known for supporting rural families for over 40 years; Angus Ashman, Jay Balmer, Robert Burn, Paul Collingwood, Sophie Dodds, Cristina Falzon, Lauren Fraser, Elizabeth Gallagher, Louise Kelly, Paul Liddle, Amanda Maskery, Louise Masters, Emelie Rowell, Emma Saunders and Sam Watts.

“The capability of our team is there for all to see, and few other firms can come anywhere close to the decades of expertise, experience and reputation we have in our agriculture and estates offering,” says Tom Wills.

“For generations, we have been by the sides of families and businesses in rural and agricultural communities across the North of England, earning the trust of these clients so they stay with us over the course of many years. It is a privilege to be able to support them through hugely significant moments in the lives of individuals and families, and to be able to give our expert advice to benefit businesses.

“We continue to grow on the strength of our reputation and the outstanding legal and client service we deliver, and our instructions come from across the entire region, often involving matters of great complexity, which Sintons is well equipped to handle.

“The growth we have seen, and continue to see, is hugely positive and confirms the standing that Sintons has held for many years in this very specialist area of law.”

Understanding Terminology used in a Conveyancing Transaction

Purchasing a property is potentially the most expensive and stressful experience that you will have to deal with.

Whether you are buying or selling your own home or an investment property, the conveyancing process can be confusing and, at times, intimidating.

In this article, I will explain some of the terminology which you will come across during a conveyancing transaction. Hopefully, this will help you understand the process and let you know what to expect.

Freehold and Leasehold

It’s important for you to know whether the property you are buying or selling is a freehold or leasehold. As a general rule, houses are usually freehold and flats will be leasehold.

A freehold property essentially means that you own the property outright and for most people, this is the preferred option. You do not pay any annual ground rent, you don’t have another party controlling matters such as maintenance and you will be solely responsible for the entirety of your building.

If the property you are buying is leasehold, you will own the property for the term specified in your lease.

Your lease will define you as the ‘tenant’ and will make reference to your ‘landlord’ who owns the freehold title out of which your lease has been granted.

Your lease will specify such things as any rights granted to you, covenants which you must abide by and will identify your property with reference to a plan.

You will be required to pay an annual ground rent, and may also need to contribute towards maintenance costs of the building as a whole and any common parts which is known as a service charge. Your landlord may be responsible for putting buildings insurance in place and your lease will specify the contribution you must make to the cost of the policy.

Searches and Surveys

During the course of your purchase, your solicitor will undertake searches on your behalf and recommend you arrange a survey to be carried out by a suitably qualified professional.

If you are buying your property with the assistance of a mortgage, your lender will require a full set of appropriate searches to be carried out on your behalf. If you are buying the property with cash, searches are discretionary but recommended. It is important that you discover as much information about the property before you commit, so that you can make an informed decision about whether to proceed.

Your solicitor will undertake those searches which are necessary, depending on the location of your property. This will always include a local authority search, a drainage and water search and an environmental search.

Some additional searches may be necessary, for example, if you are purchasing a property which lies within a former mining area, a ground stability report will be required.

Your solicitor’s role is to ensure the legal title to your property is good, marketable and acceptable to you and your mortgage lender. Solicitors are not qualified to advise you on surveying matters so we would strongly recommend you instruct a suitably qualified surveyor to inspect the property.

There are different types of surveys available to you, and you should discuss with your surveyor which type meets your requirements and which report should be undertaken.

Enquiries

If you are selling a property, your solicitor is likely to contact you at some point during the transaction to let you know that they have received some enquiries from the buyer’s solicitors. Enquiries are a list of questions which the buyer’ solicitor has raised to either obtain further information or to ask for information which hasn’t been provided yet. If there are any title issues, these will be raised as part of the enquiries.

When selling, your solicitor will help you reply to these enquiries and to obtain any certificates or other documents which the buyer’s solicitors are asking for.

When you’re buying a property, you should let your solicitor know if there is anything specific which you would like them to raise with the seller’s solicitors. Once your solicitor has received replies to enquiries, they will send you a purchase report to summarise all of the information they have gathered. You can still raise further enquiries up to the point of exchange of contracts.

Exchange and Completion

Exchange of contracts takes place once all of the parties in the chain have carried out all of their searches and enquiries, they have their mortgage offer and balance funds in place, and they have signed all of the relevant documentation.

A completion date also must have been agreed between the parties in the chain as the completion date forms part of the legal contract.

From the point of exchange, you will be legally bound to proceed with the transaction at the agreed price and on the agreed completion date. If you are buying a property, the risk for buildings insurance will pass to you on exchange so you must make sure that you have your own insurance in place.

Completion means the day on which the monies are transferred from the buyer’s solicitors to the seller’s solicitors and the keys are handed over. It is very important that you don’t hand any keys direct to the buyer until your solicitor has confirmed that the full balance monies have been received. Often people find it easier to drop the keys off at the estate agent’s office safe in the knowledge that the agents will hand over the keys to the buyer once completion has taken place.

If either party fails to complete on the day which has been agreed then they will incur financial penalties, so you need to be absolutely sure that all of your funds are in place if you are buying a property, or if you are selling that you will be able to move out of the property and clear out everything which is not included in the sale by 2 pm on the day of completion.

Exchange and completion can happen on the same day, but it’s preferable for exchange to take place a few days or sometimes even a few weeks before completion is due to take place so that people can book removals, arrange storage etc.

Please remember that the transaction is not legally binding on either party until exchange has taken place, which unfortunately means that someone could still back out of a deal or lower their offer right up until the point of exchange.  If you’re in rented accommodation, please don’t hand your notice in until you know that contracts have been exchanged. Similarly, if you are moving into rented accommodation, it’s not advisable to sign a rental agreement until contracts have been exchanged on your sale and you know it’s definitely going ahead.

Suzanne Dixon is an Associate in the residential conveyancing department at Sintons. To speak to Suzanne, please contact her at suzanne.dixon@sintons.co.uk or 0191 226 7805.

Conveyancing specialist joins Sintons

The residential conveyancing team at Sintons has added further expertise to its team with the appointment of a new specialist.

Dawn Brown becomes the latest addition to the law firm’s growing conveyancing team, which attracts instructions from across the UK.

Dawn has worked in property for a number of years, having initially gained a degree in estate management and working as a minerals surveyor before changing focus to pursue a career in law.

Dawn joins Sintons at a time when its conveyancing team continues to perform strongly, despite the uncertainty in the economy.

“I am delighted to move to Sintons. The firm has a first-rate reputation across the board, and its work in conveyancing is regarded in the highest terms,” said Dawn.

“Its standards of client service are well known, and that particularly appealed to me – in such significant sales or purchases for individuals and families, it is a privilege to be part of that process, so giving the best possible service is crucial. I share Sintons’ commitment to delivering that.”

Anna Barton, partner and head of conveyancing at Sintons, said: “Despite the many challenges of the past two years and the impact that has had on the residential property market, our team has performed strongly.

“We have continued to attract new instructions from across the country, with clients – both new and existing – coming to us on the strength of our reputation and capability in handling matters of the highest value and complexity, and delivering an outstanding service throughout. That is what we are known for at Sintons and are committed to delivering and building further.

“We are very pleased to welcome Dawn to the team, who has significant knowledge of the market through her work both in conveyancing and previously in estates.”

A live Q&A with Sinton’s Family team – Episode 3

In episode 3 of our monthly live Q&A sessions with Sintons family team, solicitor Sophie Dodds 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.

For your convenience we have also recorded this session as both a webinar and podcast, links to both are below.

Parental Alienation

Parental alienation is sadly a hot topic at present in the family Courts and something Judges are having to face and adjudicate upon on a regular basis. These cases arise when a child is resisting or refusing to spend time with one parent after separation. There can be multiple reasons a child does not want to spend time with one parent for example if they have been a victim or witnessed domestic abuse or they feel a strong attachment to one parent but the focus of this article is parental alienation.

Parental alienation is recognised as a child’s resistance or hostility towards one parent being unjustified and is the result of psychological manipulation by the other parent. Behaviours can include:-

  • Negative portrayal of the other parent
  • focusing on mistakes the other parent has made and how the child must be disappointed in them
  • questioning the child upon return
  • criticising decisions of the other parent and saying or implying the other parent places the child at risk of harm.

C v D [2021]

In a recent case C v D (private law – domestic abuse – parental alienation) [2021] EWFC B60 (30 July 2021) examples of parental alienation were: changing the children’s school several times without consulting the other parent, asking the children lots of questions on return from contact, sharing information with the children about that parent’s experience with the other parent and calling the police to check up on the other parent.

Although the parent suffering from alienation in this case was found to be the perpetrator of domestic abuse, the Court held that the benefits of the children having a relationship with their father far outweighed any risk he may pose them. The Court ordered two overnight stays per week with extended periods during the school holidays.

How are these cases dealt with?

Cafcass, the Courts Advisory Service for Children, will first identify the risk. If this risk is high, this could result in a child protection issue and the local authority may become involved. Cafcass will prepare a report where they will investigate the matter in detail and speak to the parents, usually review the contact with each parent and the child, speak to the child’s school and other caregivers and the child themselves (if they are of a suitable age to express their wishes and feelings). Cafcass will include recommendations at the end of the report as to the child arrangements going forward and whether they do believe there has been parental alienation.

A guardian is often appointed to represent a child during these cases, and they will have separate legal representation. This is to ensure that the child is not being unduly influenced by one parent or the other and essentially to ensure that the child’s best interests are being presented to the Court without influence from a party with a vested interest.

Psychological assessments may also be required of the child and either one or both parents depending on the allegations raised. These assessments can determine whether the child has suffered emotional harm and explore why the child is feeling hostile towards one parent.

Assessment upon parents can determine whether there are signs of parental alienation and if so, what can be done about that.

These cases are usually traumatic for everyone involved and take a significant amount of time to resolve.

Often the alienating parent believes they are doing this to protect the child when in reality they can be causing them long term emotional harm.

What must be remembered is section 1 (2A) of the Children Act 1989 – “unless the contrary is shown, that involvement of [each] parent in the life of the child concerned will further the child’s welfare.”It is also worth noting that there have been recent cases whereby the children are removed from the alienating parent to live with the alienated parent.  This has occurred in cases when the children would even refuse to speak with or see the alienated parent.  The consensus in these tricky cases (where thorough investigation has concluded that there has been alienation and there is no reason why the children cannot spend time with the alienated parent) is that whilst the move will be difficult for the children in the short term, in the longer term the child will likely have a much better relationship with both parents.

This is a cautionary tale and the reason why we signpost our clients for whatever emotional support they need to assist them with the family breakdown.

Should you wish to discuss any of the matters raised above or any other family matter, then please do get in touch with a member of the team.

The implications of the impending no-fault divorce

The new law surrounding no fault divorce has been the ‘hot topic’ for family lawyers over the past two years. This will be a complete radicalisation in the way in which parties can obtain a divorce which will come into effect in around 8 weeks’ time.

Under current law there is only one ground for divorce which is the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. This is then proven by relying on one of the following five facts:

  • Adultery;
  • Unreasonable behaviour;
  • Desertion;
  • Separation for at least 2 years with consent of the other party; and
  • Separation for at least 5 years without the need for consent.

The result of the current and extremely out of date law is that if one person grows apart from their spouse but remains amicable, they would have to blame the other person, whether they like it or not, to achieve divorce unless they waited for two years post separation.

It is however anticipated that from the 6th April 2022, when the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 is due to come into force, the facts above which apportion blame (adultery and unreasonable behaviour) will be removed from the law.

In other words, divorcing spouses will no longer be able to blame the other for the breakdown of the marriage. We have discussed the key changes to divorce in more depth in previous articles.

Whilst family law practitioners, organisations such as Resolution (who were instrumental in achieving this change) and indeed many clients, welcome the move to a more collaborative and harmonious way of dealing with the divorce process, there are some couples who will remain aggrieved by the way in which the marriage has broken down and would, we suspect, still like the opportunity to ‘have their say’.

Some clients believe that documenting their reasons in the petition is retribution or closure which can help them emotionally move on to deal with the ancillary matters.  The worry is, having this option taken away from them may not necessarily help them deal with the process.

Further it is feared that those who cannot ‘blame’ the other in the divorce arena, will seek to attempt to run ‘conduct’ arguments when dealing with the financial matters which again will increase acrimony and inevitably legal costs.

The team at Sintons wholeheartedly promote the new law and welcome this change to the divorce process. The hope is that after a short period, it will simply become the norm and society will forget that once upon a time you could blame the other person.  Similar to wearing seat belts!  One looks back to a time when seatbelts were not compulsory and thinks how on earth could that have been allowed to happen. The same will likely occur here.

Should you wish to discuss any of the matters raised above or any other family matter, then please do get in touch with a member of the team.

Court of Protection Conference brings together leading experts

An event to explore the support available for children with acquired brain injury (ABI) is set to attract attendees from across the country.

The Court of Protection Conference 2022 features an array of leading speakers who will discuss all aspects of child brain injury and its impact, covering the process from the effects on the family through to litigation, the support available and the return to education.

The online event, organised by Sintons Court of Protection team with the Child Brain Injury Trust, is expected to attract attendees nationally.

The conference, held via Zoom, will be held on February 10 from 9.30am to 2pm.

Speakers at the event are:

“Child brain injury is one of the most traumatic events imaginable and creates uncertainty and great distress for the whole family,” says Sophie Moore, chair of the conference and solicitor in the Court of Protection team at Sintons.

“At Sintons, we see the impact of this on a regular basis with our nationally-renowned Neurotrauma and Court of Protection teams being able to work together to guide families through such a difficult period.

“By holding this Court of Protection Conference in conjunction with the Child Brain Injury Trust, and being joined by a superb line-up of speakers who are true experts in their field, we are pleased to share our experience and expertise in this field with fellow professionals, who we hope will be equipped to offer even greater support to their clients.”

To reserve your place, please click on the ‘Register for this event’ button.

A live Q&A with Sinton’s Family team – Episode 2

In episode 2 of our monthly live Q&A sessions with Sintons family team, solicitor Sophie Dodds 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.

For your convenience we have also recorded this session as both a webinar and podcast, links to both are below.

What does mediation mean to me?

Family Mediation Week 2022 runs from 17th-21st January 2022 to raise awareness about mediation and the benefits it offers to separating couples and those in dispute. Family Mediation Week is run by the Family Mediation Council and they are offering a number of free events to attend throughout the week. You can find out more information here.

The family team at Sintons have come together to explain what mediation means to them:

“Mediation to me, is a fantastic and supported arena in which people can talk about their issues.

This takes place on an uninterrupted basis so that each party can have their say about matters with the other person having a chance to respond. The mediator appointed will encourage and facilitate the discussions and negotiations.

Mediation is a pre-requisite to family Court proceedings but in my view, it has so many benefits, it should be considered from the outset as a means of maintaining communication and the parties retaining control of being able to agree together, what is best for their family.

The family team at Sintons work regularly with a number of local and national mediators and having these positive and trusting relationships is hugely beneficial to any prospective clients.”

Louise Masters, Partner and Head of the Family Department

“Mediation is a cost effective method of resolving disputes without the need to go to Court. Court can be a costly, daunting and stressful experience and it is likely neither party will receive their desired outcome whereas, in mediation, a third party mediator will assist both parties in reaching an agreement where possible and will better assist separating couples to communicate more effectively both at present and in the future.”

Saffron Sinclair, Solicitor Apprentice

“Mediation to me means a sensible and pragmatic way to resolve disputes that arise when a relationship breaks down. It will hopefully also be a more cost effective way of resolving issues, than both parties instructing solicitors from the outset to fight their respective corners.

When issues need to be resolved between 2 adults, ideally they should be able to discuss and resolve them between themselves. In reality, often this is not possible, but having a neutral third party in the form of mediator to help with discussions, should be an enormous help.

Often issues that arise may not be technically “legal issues” and it is more appropriate for such issues to be discussed in the forum of mediation than be the subject of protracted correspondence between solicitors or the subject of court proceedings.

From a solicitors point of view, if I  consider a client has concerns and issues that can be more appropriately dealt with in mediation, I will always advise a  client to consider mediation.

Usually mediation isn’t an absolute alternative to seeking legal advice. I regard it as a parallel process and parties should still take some legal advice along the way to check they are on the right track. Also, at the end of the process legal advice is likely to be required to ensure that an agreement reached in mediation is formalised.”

Elizabeth Gallagher, Consultant

“Being a member of Resolution, First for Family Law mediation is something I always explain to my clients and give them the option to explore this method of dispute resolution from the outset of their matter. I explain mediation to them during our initial correspondence so they are aware that this is an option they can explore. Mediation can improve communication between parties and teach them to deal with their matter in a more amicable matter. This is not only beneficial for them going forward but also for any children involved.

Mediation to me means allowing couples to be in control of their dispute and reach an agreement that they are both satisfied with. The mediator will listen to find out what both parties wish to achieve from the session and assist them both to make their own choices about the best way forward. There should be no undue influence from either side and both parties should be on an even keel. The mediator will keep the conversation from deviating from the relevant points so each session can be productive and useful.

Mediation can be an extremely useful tool for family related disputes and I do believe that parties who attend a successful mediation session go on to have happier and healthier relationships in the future.”

Sophie Dodds, Solicitor

Court of Protection Conference 2022

Sintons’ Court of Protection team, in association with the Child Brain Injury Trust, invites you to explore the support available for Children with Acquired Brain Injury (ABI).

Sintons’ team of highly experienced Court of Protection lawyers and guest speakers will guide you through the following topics:

To reserve your place, please click here.

 

Divorce day – is it a myth?

There is a history of divorce day being the first working Monday back after the Christmas break, being today and we did used to see a pattern that there were a surge of enquiries on this first day back. This was often due to the New Year and those looking for a new start and not wanting to bring disruption to their families over the Christmas period.

But 2020 was a prime example of where there were no patterns or trends, so it is difficult to know what it is in store for the working day today. Many are saying that the so called ‘divorce day’ in 2022 will be delayed to April when we will see the introduction of no-fault divorce.

No-fault divorce

At present, there is one ground of divorce which is the irretrievable breakdown of marriage and this needs to be backed up using one of 5 of facts. 3 of those facts rely on the couple being separated for 2 years or more meaning if a couple wishes to divorce within 2 years of separating they have to blame the other party by either relying on adultery or unreasonable behaviour.

From April 2022, it will not be necessary to use one of the five facts, all that will be required is a simple statement confirming that the marriage has irretrievably broken down.

Will no-fault make divorce too easy?

There is fear that with the introduction of no-fault divorce it will be too easy to get a divorce and people may have a knee-jerk reaction to apply for a divorce following an argument that they will later come to regret.

With no-fault divorce Judges will take the statement of irretrievable breakdown of marriage as conclusive evidence and on face value, there will be no need to provide any further proof that the incidents cited in the divorce petition occurred which some of the facts require at present.

The other party will also not have the opportunity to defend the divorce which they do have currently.

To relieve some fear about whether the divorce process will become too easy with no fault divorce, there will be a minimum time period of 20 weeks with a cooling off period of 6 weeks between the conditional order (formally Decree Nisi) and final order (formally Decree Absolute) so the parties can ensure they are definitely making the right decision.

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 www.sintons.co.uk.

Conscious uncoupling – what is it and how could it help you?

Almost 8 years ago the term was announced by a celebrity couple and this was most likely the first time the majority of us in this jurisdiction had heard it.

The process itself relates to dealing with matters in a conscious way which allows you to healthily move on from a separation or divorce.

In general, family lawyers are engaged to advise upon the law and to provide a view as to how the Court would deal with a particular matter.

But it is so much more than that.

Unlike other disciplines of law, family law involves every emotion in the spectrum. The separation or divorce for an unsuspecting person is likened to a bereavement or worse because your partner or spouse is gone but you may still have to deal with them on a daily basis especially if children are involved.

If one person is in an emotionally different place to the other it can make an amicable resolution of the issues rather tricky.

Whatever position you find yourself in, the following steps from the concept of conscious uncoupling may help you move forward: –

  1. Let go of anger and unhappiness associated with the relationship. You are not able to change what has happened in the past and hanging onto the negative energy will do nothing good for your future.
  2. Find yourself. However long you have been in a relationship you will have each acquired different roles.  Moving forward redefine yourself into the best person you can be on your own.
  3. Break any negative patterns that you may have fallen into. Find other mindful and healthy things to occupy you and your time.

Should this concept appeal to you but you are struggling as to where to start, you may wish to consider embarking upon Collaborative Practice.

The aim of Collaborative Practice is to work together to achieve the best outcome for the family overall. The anchor statement is widely used in a Collaborative setting. This is where both parties will write down and relay to the other why the process is important to them and what they want to get out of it.  This fits perfectly with Conscious Uncoupling as a means of letting go of anger, finding individuality and focusing on a positive future for all involved.

Whilst this tactile approach may seem alien, it is the way forward.  In April 2022 No Fault Divorce is expected to be brought into law which will exclude the current “blame” factors which fits perfectly into this discussion.

Conscious Uncoupling in a Collaborative way is only one of the options to resolve matters but from a mental health and wellbeing perspective, it is something which should be given significant consideration if you find yourselves having recently separated from your partner or spouse.

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 www.sintons.co.uk.

Happy New Year – Family Law Style

The Christmas break can often be a difficult time for families. The Family Team at Sintons recognises that and sets out below some tips which may assist you should you be embarking on the process of separation or divorce.

Healthy separation and divorce

Analyse your options to resolve matters

Prepare yourself and your children for a mindful and amicable process

Put anger and negative emotions behind you

Your mental health is very important

 

New beginnings can be positive

Expect to experience all emotions

What do you want to achieve?

 

You can determine your process

Expect challenges along the way

Always listen to advice from your lawyer and other third-party professionals

Remember what is important to you

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 www.sintons.co.uk.

Private client specialist Nikita Noel joins Sintons

The award-winning Wills, Trusts and Probate Team at Sintons is continuing to expand through the appointment of a new specialist.

Private client solicitor Nikita Noel joins Sintons to further build the team’s expertise.

She specialises in the preparation of complex wills and lasting powers of attorney, alongside the administration of estates and advising on tax planning schemes.

Nikita, who joins Sintons from Latimer Hinks in Darlington, is also an Associate Member of Solicitors for the Elderly and a Dementia Friends Champion.

Her appointment is the latest step in the ongoing development of Sintons’ highly esteemed Wills, Trusts and Probate Team, which was named Private Client Team of the Year at the Northern Law Awards 2019.

Led by Paul Nickalls – regularly hailed as one of the leading lawyers in the North of England – the team continues to win praise for its work, with independent legal publications Legal 500 and Chambers both highlighting its legal capability and levels of client service. Legal 500 said the members of the team are “specialists in their field…responsive and attentive to client needs”.

“I am absolutely delighted to join Sintons” says Nikita. “This is a first-rate team with a reputation of being appointed to handle matters of the highest complexity from across the UK and even internationally.”

Paul Nickalls, head of Wills, Trusts and Probate at Sintons, says: “We are very pleased to add Nikita to our fast-growing department. As an ambitious solicitor, who has already achieved a great deal in her career, we are delighted to welcome her to Sintons.”

A live Q&A with Sinton’s Family team – Episode 1

In episode 1 of our monthly live Q&A sessions with Sintons family team, solicitor Sophie Dodds 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.

For your convenience we have also recorded this session as both a webinar and podcast, links to both are below.

Searches

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

Please click on the play button below to listen.

Practical considerations when managing a person’s property

A property and financial affairs deputy appointed by the Court of Protection is required, not only to secure and manage a person’s financial assets, but also to manage their property.

What that involves on a day-to-day basis depends on whether the property is owned or rented, and whether the person is living in the property.

Below are some of the considerations that must be made when managing a person’s property.

If the person owns the property and they live in it

  • Registering a restriction against the title with HM Land Registry
  • Insuring both the building and contents, including any aids and equipment
  • Carrying out maintenance and appliance checks
  • Ensuring that the property remains suitable for the person
  • Ascertaining whether there is any statutory funding or grants available for upgrading the property, such as Disabled Facilities Grant and the Warm Home Grant
  • Checking the person’s entitlement to benefits, such as Sever Mentally Impairment Council Tax

If the person owns property that they rent out

  • Insuring the building
  • Obtaining the annual gas safety certificate and electrical safety certificate and providing the tenant with copies
  • Making sure that a tenancy agreement is in place and the deposit has been paid into one of the available protection schemes
  • Agreeing a detailed inventory of contents
  • Ensuring regular maintenance checks are carried out

It should be noted that if the person is in a care home and funding their own care, a deferred payment arrangement can be entered into with the Local Authority.  A “deferred payment arrangement” is a loan secured against the person’s home with a fixed interest rate applying.  This can allow the person to keep their home, while continuing to meet the costs of care.  The loan is to be repaid when the person passes away or on the earlier sale of the property.

If the person is a tenant  

  • Entering into a tenancy agreement and agreeing an inventory
  • Insuring the contents, including any aids and equipment
  • Ensuring that the property remains suitable for the person
  • Obtaining copies of the annual gas safety certificate and electrical safety certificate from the landlord
  • Getting details of the how the deposit has been protected
  • Applying for parking permits, particularly if the person has a blue badge or regular visitors, such as therapists or carers, who may need to park outside of the property
  • Maintaining regular contact with the landlord with regards to the upkeep of the property

It may be that the person you are supporting requires a property to be purchased for them, or they may wish to sell their current property because it is no longer suitable for them. Our next blog will deal with applications to the Court of Protection to purchase and sell property on behalf of the protected party.

Meet the Conveyancing Team with Emma Stonehouse

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

I am the conveyancing assistant within the conveyancing team and have been with Sintons for 8 years. I started in February 2013 when I was 17 years old.

How long have you worked in residential property

Almost 6 years – I joined the conveyancing team in December 2015.

Why did you choose to specialise in this area of law

I originally joined the firm working in the office services team which gave me an insight into all the different departments within the firm. When a job became available to support the conveyancing team I was very interested and thought this would be a good step in my career, and I am very glad I took that step.

What is unique about Sintons’ offering in the market

We offer a high level of service to our clients and do everything we can to make the process as smooth as possible for them.

The department has a very high percentage of repeat business and referred work. Why do you think this is the case?

We form very good relationships with our clients and I think this is because of the service they receive from our team. We always make sure they are kept up to date during the process of their transaction and we always ensure a phone call or email is returned and the client is never left without a response.

How has Sintons and the property market in general been impacted by the COVID pandemic?

The property market has actually been very busy since COVID as a lot of people were buying properties to take advantage of the stamp duty holiday.

What can people expect when appointing you as their conveyancing lawyer?

They can expect a high level of service and a good relationship with their solicitor. We do our very best to keep our clients happy and ensure every client gets the service they deserve.

Emma Stonehouse is a Conveyancing Assistant in the Residential Conveyancing Team. You can contact Emma at emma.stonehouse@sintons.co.uk or on 0191 226 3658.

A Live Q&A with Sintons’ Family Team

From 29th November- 3rd December, Resolution promoted their annual Good Divorce Week campaign to raise awareness of the work of family justice professionals.

Good Divorce Week 2021 focused on how parents can embrace a child-focused approach to separation.

To support Good Divorce Week, Louise Masters and Sophie Dodds from the Family team at Sintons hosted a live Q&A session, answering family law related questions that were put forward specifically for the session.

For your convenience we have also recorded this session as both a webinar and podcast, links to both are below.

Good Divorce Week and Collaborative Practice

No discussion during “Good Divorce Week” would be complete without mention of a “collaborative” divorce.

As divorce is ranked as one of the most stressful life events, alongside things such as bereavement, it is questionable whether in reality, there is such a thing as a “good divorce”. Lawyers are now very aware, that going down a more traditional litigious route, is often acrimonious, uncertain and expensive. It can also cause long term irreparable emotional damage to the couple and their children.

In view of this, there are now an increasing number of lawyers in the UK that see the way forward as using the collaborative law process, (also known as collective practice).

This is a legal process which enables couples to work with collaboratively trained lawyers and other professionals to achieve a settlement that best meets the needs of the couple and their family.

What makes the process different is that at the outset, the couple make a “no court commitment”, and agree to resolve issues by sitting round a table with their collaborative lawyer by their side. This means there can be no threat of “see you in court”.

This is particularly beneficial where the couple have children. It keeps lines of communication open between the couple and helps them learn to work together, not only to reach a solution regarding the immediate arrangements for the children and their financial affairs, but it also lays the foundation for working together in the future for the benefit of the children.

Lawyers deal with the law, but when a relationship breaks down, there are often non legal issues to be addressed, and a lawyer may not be the best person to deal with such issues. The collaborative approach is a holistic approach. It can involve a team of professionals to help the couple work together and be creative, to enable them to reach a tailor-made solution that best suits their family. Each professional will concentrate on his or her specialism. This ensures that the right person is on hand for the right job and is ultimately more cost effective than engaging a lawyer with a high hourly rate, to deal with issues beyond their knowledge and training.

Other professionals who are likely to become involved include a family consultant and a neutral financial advisor.

In the same way that athletes have to invest time training to ensure they perform to the best of their ability, a couple embarking on the collaborative path need to ensure they are fully equipped to deal with the process. Family Consultants are professionals who come from a variety of backgrounds. They understand couple dynamics and can help ensure that any non-legal issues that might impair the process, are fully communicated to the collaborative team and that the couple are ready to deal with the legal issues. They are also likely to assist the couple discussing the arrangements for the children, particularly if there are issues that the lawyers are not required to advise upon.

Financial security for the family as a whole is often a major concern to a separating couple, particularly where one party is in an economically weaker position than the other. Bringing a financial planner to the collaborative table means there can be open discussions about financial concerns and expectations. Specialist advice can be given as to how best to use the matrimonial assets to benefit the family as a whole, rather than each party wanting the pot to be split to their own advantage, with no thought about the consequences. The lawyers will also be on hand to advise on the legal implications.

The collaborative approach is not suitable for all couples. It relies on an open and transparent approach and some underlying trust, which can often be difficult when a relationship breaks down. If a couple are able to put their differences aside and focus on the needs of their children, hopefully, with the support of a suitable collaborative team, trust can start to be rebuilt, and a solid foundation laid for the family’s future.

There may be no such thing as a “good divorce” but going down the collaborative path will mean that the often difficult and painful process of divorce can be managed in a much more constructive and holistic way than has happened in the past.

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 www.sintons.co.uk.

Top tips on how to have a child focused separation

Separating from a partner can be difficult. Your routines change, you have to learn to function as one instead of two and there can be pain and upset. A separation does not only cause disruption and upset to the parties involved but also those close to them, in particular any children of the family.

In this article, we will be providing you with some top tips on how you can separate in a way that makes the process as smooth as possible for your children.

Acceptance

If you are positive there is no chance of reconciliation then the first step is coming to terms with the fact the relationship is over. It is also important to acknowledge that there may be some conflict along the way. When separating from a partner, emotions run high and as you both move through the stages of the ‘grieving’ process, often at different rates, there is the potential to hit obstacles. This is okay and completely natural. As conflict arises, try to manage your side of it. Take a step back and look at the full picture and try not to let your emotions negatively influence your reactions.

Start to build up your support network. This could include counsellors, a divorce coach, mediators or legal professionals.

Telling the children

It should be a joint decision as to how and when to tell your children you are separating and when often depends on the child’s age and their level of understanding. For a younger child they may have a lesser understanding, but an older child will be aware their homelife is changing and pick up on differing behaviours. An older child therefore may benefit from being in the know sooner rather than later. Many children report that they were told about their parents separating too late.

When communicating your decisions with  children focus on:

– Listening and following up on conversations;

– Minimising exposure of adult conversations;

– Acknowledge the children’s feelings are normal;

– Let them know it is not their fault and they are not responsible for making decisions;

– Provide comfort and remain open but also space for them to process the information

Learning to Co-Parent

Communication is key and remembering what is in the children’s best interests is the paramount concern. Remove any animosity you may feel for your ex-partner when considering arrangements for the children and focus solely on the fact that unless there is a valid reason why not (such as safety), children benefit from having a strong and consistent relationship with both parents.

If emotions are running high and arguments are ensuing, avoid face to face contact until matters have settled and communicate via telephone, text message or email. You may wish to try a co-parenting app such as Our Family Wizard. You could also try having handovers in a neutral location for example from and to school, in a public car park or via a third party such as a family member.

Set a routine and have consistent arrangements for the children so they know which parent they are with on which day. If this cannot be agreed, consider mediation or contact a legal professional who will be able to assist you both in reaching an agreement.

Resolution is a community of family justice professionals who aim to resolve family law issues in a constructive way. Members take a non-confrontational approach when resolving disputes and the aim is to deal with matters as amicably as possible.

Resolution have created a guide called Parenting through separation which is available for free to download on their website. The guide aims to give parents access to information and support to help them through the journey of parenting post-separation.

All of our family team at Sintons are Resolution members and we aim to make our client’s separations as straightforward as possible. We also have solicitors who are collaboratively trained and this practice involves 4-way meetings with parties and their representatives to discuss and negotiate the best outcome for the family overall without going to court.

If you are going through a separation and looking for some advice, please do not hesitate to get in touch with our family team on 0191 226 7878 or at www.sintons.co.uk.

Meet the Conveyancing Team with Nathan Johnson

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

I have been with Sintons since September 2017 when I began a 6-year Solicitor Apprenticeship with the firm.

I run my own caseload in the team, working on:

  • Sales and purchases of freehold and leasehold property, including Tyneside Flat arrangements
  • Sales and purchases of unregistered property
  • Probate sales and sales by attorneys
  • Transfers of equity
  • Assents

How long have you worked in residential property

I began working in the Conveyancing team in September 2019, so just over 2 years.

What is unique about Sintons’ offering in the market

What I believe to be unique about Sintons offering in the market is that we value a quality service over taking on extremely high volumes of work, which could mean the appropriate amount of time is not devoted to each individual client. I think our level of attention to detail in each transaction is unique, as well as our understanding of certain characteristics of the housing market such as Tyneside Flat arrangements.

The department has a very high percentage of repeat business and referred work. Why do you think this is the case?

I think this is down to excellent communication, together with attention to detail and setting all relevant matters out for our clients throughout a transaction, to keep them informed. We don’t cut corners.

What is the outlook in the residential property market. Is this a good time to buy or sell?

Both! Recent articles and research has suggested that the residential market is expected to stay buoyant in 2022.

How has Sintons and the property market in general been impacted by the COVID pandemic?

The residential property market was impacted quite significantly at the very outset of lockdown, as most areas of business. However, it bounced back very quickly and since August of 2020, has been as buoyant and active as it was pre-Covid, if not more so.

Sintons have been well placed throughout the pandemic to deliver our usual service through excellent IT and business continuity plans. We are over the moon to be back in the office, though!

What can people expect when appointing you as their conveyancing lawyer?

Great attention to detail and prompt and clear communication (with all parties) in a way that is easy to understand.

Nathan Johnson is a Senior Solicitor Apprentice in the Residential Conveyancing Team. You can contact Nathan at nathan.johnson@sintons.co.uk or on 0191 226 7885.

The key elements of no-fault divorce

No fault divorce is coming into force in April 2022 and in a previous article, we have explained the main changes to the divorce process. As a recap, the main difference is that the divorce can proceed within the first 2 years of separation without the need to place blame on one party. At present, parties cannot get divorced within the first 2 years of separation without relying on either adultery or unreasonable behaviour.

The key elements of no-fault divorce are:

  1. The terminology will change:
    – petitioner becomes the applicant
    – the petition becomes the application
    – the Decree Nisi becomes a conditional order
    – the Decree Absolute becomes a final order.
  2. The applicant only needs to provide a statement of irretrievable breakdown, not rely on one of the five facts which include adultery and unreasonable behaviour
  3. You can file a joint petition with your partner
  4. New time frame of 6 months: 20 week period to conditional order, 6 weeks between conditional order and final order as a cooling-off period.
  5. The Court will serve the application onto the other party within 28 days

The aim of no-fault divorce is to promote amicable separations, which is both in the parties best interests and any children of the family. An amicable separation can also assist the parties in resolving the financial and property issues.

However, if you are looking to use a blame fact such as adultery or unreasonable behaviour, you may wish to consider filing for divorce before April 2022 when the law will change.

If you are considering a divorce but you and your partner have simply drifted apart and there is no one to blame, you may wish to wait to apply for no-fault divorce in April 2022.

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 www.sintons.co.uk.

Meet the Conveyancing Team with Karl Liu

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

I’ve been working at Sintons since January 2018 and I am a paralegal in the Conveyancing Team.  I have a law degree and I’m working towards my qualification as a Chartered Legal Executive.

How long have you worked in residential property

I started working in Residential Conveyancing in 2014. I’ve developed my knowledge over the past 7 years working at a few different respectable firms in the North East, and now being settled at Sintons.

Why did you choose to specialise in this area of law

I actually went into Conveyancing as a recommendation from a friend. I’d just come out of a temporary role in family law, not knowing what to expect, but I always had a passion for property so in hindsight it seemed rather fitting that I decided to specialise in this area. Looking back on the decision now, it has definitely been a wise move for me.

What is unique about Sintons’ offering in the market

As a firm we thrive on providing a good quality service. We ensure we are there to handle our clients affairs and any queries they may have in a timely manner. We are able to maintain good relationships and gaining repeat business from clients and referrals to their family members, friends and work colleagues alike. At Sintons, you will generally have a single point of contact who will have the knowledge and expertise to cater specifically to your requirements.

The department has a very high percentage of repeat business and referred work. Why do you think this is the case?

What we offer in the market is the reason why we have a high percentage of repeat business and referred work. Likewise we have a very close knit network between the firm’s many departments, so clients are able to call upon the expertise of our colleagues in other departments, as required. As our firm has a set base of Visions and Values, we then look at how to materialise on such Vision and Values and this is evidenced in the way we work.

What is the outlook in the residential property market. Is this a good time to buy or sell?

The property market is indeed very busy, however it can also be very unpredictable as well. In light of the recent government Stamp Duty Land Tax holiday, many have looked to benefit from this by aiming to complete by the end of September deadline. We may have expected the market to quieten down slightly. This, however, doesn’t seem to be the case, nor has it been throughout the lockdown. The property market has stood on its two feet in this tough period. There seems to be more demand for new houses to be built, which then creates a rippling effect on houses being sold to potential first time buyers, investors and standard buyers alike.

How has Sintons and the property market in general been impacted by the COVID pandemic?

We continue to thrive on giving quality service to the new work coming into the firm.

Have you been involved in any unusual or unique property transactions you could disclose?

I believe every transaction is unique in its own right. I work on all types of properties, some coming with their own unique aspects such as septic tanks, unregistered land, parts of land that haven’t been properly transferred from predecessors, dealing with grants of easements with neighbours, and so on…

What can people expect when appointing you as their conveyancing lawyer?

My aim is to deliver an excellent service to all my clients. Handle their matter efficiently and in a timely fashion, reporting on possible options and routes that can be taken, where applicable.

Karl Liu is a Paralegal in the Residential Conveyancing Team. You can contact Karl at karl.liu@sintons@sintons.co.uk or on 0191 226 3808.

Sintons’ Family team supports Good Divorce Week

From 29th November- 3rd December, Resolution are promoting their annual Good Divorce Week campaign to raise awareness of the work of family justice professionals.

This year Good Divorce Week is focusing on how parents can embrace a child-focused approach to separation.

(Resolution is a community of family justice professionals who aim to resolve family law issues in a constructive way. Members take a non-confrontational approach when resolving disputes and the aim is to deal with matters as amicably as possible).

To support Good Divorce Week, the family team at Sintons will be posting articles and podcasts about relevant family law issues throughout the week and hosting two events which are open to all. These include:

  • On Thursday 2nd December 2021, the team will be hosting a live Q&A session, answering any family law related questions you may have
  • Do you have a family law query either personally or professionally which remains unanswered? We are here to help
  • Your question can be anything family law related including divorce, separation, finances, children or domestic violence
  • Questions can be submitted via email to Sophie Dodds or anonymously via the following link
  • You can also watch the session live here.

Please submit your questions by Friday 26th November 2021.

&

  • On Friday 3rd December 2021, the team will be offering a free family law clinic from 1pm-5pm
  • If you are going through a separation, considering a divorce or cannot agree the arrangements for your children, we are here to discuss your next steps
  • The sessions will be held remotely via Teams
  • If you are interested in a free 30 minute session, please send your details by Tuesday 30th November 2021 to Saffron Sinclair and complete the initial enquiry form on our website.

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.

Meet the Conveyancing Team with Suzanne Dixon

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

I am an Associate and I have worked at Sintons since 2014. My role in the team includes assisting Anna with supervision and I coordinate all our training requirements.

How long have you worked in residential property

After my law degree, I started working as a legal secretary for a consultant solicitor who specialised in residential conveyancing. I then completed a training contract, qualified as a solicitor in 2007 and have specialised in this area ever since.  I have therefore worked in residential property for over 20 years

Why did you choose to specialise in this area of law

When I was studying for my degree at university, property law was the first area of law which “clicked” with me. In my first role as a legal secretary following university, the solicitor I worked for had 45 years’ experience in conveyancing and took the time to explain the practical application of the law to me. I really enjoy continuously developing my knowledge and understanding, as no two cases are ever the same.

What is unique about Sintons’ offering in the market

I think what makes us unique is we offer a personal service to each client. Our clients have our direct telephone numbers and email addresses, and we gather as much information as we can from the outset so that we really understand the client’s personal circumstances. This allows us to tailor our service to best suit the client’s requirements and needs.

The department has a very high percentage of repeat business and referred work. Why do you think this is the case?

We get to know our clients and offer a friendly, approachable service which is not only efficient but reliable. By building a strong relationship with our clients, they have the confidence to either use our services again or recommend us to their friends and family, which is the highest compliment we can receive from a client.

What is the outlook in the residential property market. Is this a good time to buy or sell?

The market has been remarkably strong through the majority of the pandemic. This has been helped by the SDLT holiday, which has now come to an end, however our levels of instructions are still strong and the market is still very busy. The market seems particularly good for sellers at the moment.

How has Sintons and the property market in general been impacted by the COVID pandemic?

Here at Sintons we have been able to quickly adapt to working from home, which hadn’t been the case before the pandemic. This has added a lot of flexibility to the working patterns of the team, whilst keeping in touch with each other and offering support wherever needed.

The property market ground to a halt in April and May 2020 while the country was in the first lockdown, but the Government was keen to open the property market back up as soon as possible. By introducing the stamp duty holiday in July 2020 and then extending this to the end of September 2021 the property market has been extremely busy.

Lockdown has led a lot of people to re-evaluate what they want from their homes, and many people have been eager to move to larger properties with outdoor space, especially since more people are working from home now. Prices have been rising, at times quite dramatically, and in some parts of the country properties have been selling within hours of going on the market.

Have you been involved in any unusual or unique property transactions you could disclose?

Every property transaction is unique in its own way, however I recently helped a client in the purchase of an island, at auction, which was quite unusual!

*What can people expect when appointing you as their conveyancing lawyer?

A friendly, approachable service with sound technical legal advice. My experience and legal knowledge enable me to provide practical solutions if problems are encountered, to explain situations thoroughly and set out the available options.

Suzanne Dixon is an associate in the Residential Conveyancing Team. You can contact Suzanne at suzanne.dixon@sintons.co.uk or on 0191 226 7805.

Meet the Conveyancing Team with Anna Barton

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

I am the partner in charge of the conveyancing team, so in addition to helping my clients with their property transactions, I tend to oversee most of the work undertaken. Suzanne Dixon helps me to run the team; she leads team meetings and keeps us all up to date with training. I’ve been with Sintons for over 10 years.

How long have you worked in residential property

I’ve been focused purely on residential property for about 15 years, but have worked in property for much longer

What is unique about Sintons’ offering in the market

We offer a highly personal service to each and every client and this makes our offering unique. Our clients appreciate that this represents true value.

The department has a very high percentage of repeat business and referred work. Why do you think this is the case?

It’s easy to generate work; the skill is undertaking that work to such a high standard that clients come back to you again because they know that you will do a good job. It’s always a pleasure to act on behalf of their friends or family when they recommend them to us, because the trust is already there.

What is the outlook in the residential property market. Is this a good time to buy or sell?

We have all been surprised at how consistently busy the residential property market has been since over the past 18 months. There are always busier and quieter periods during the course of a typical calendar year, but there has been such a high level of activity throughout this period, with seemingly no slump…. so far….

As we all continue to work remotely or in a hybrid fashion, I don’t doubt that there will still be a lot of activity in the market, particularly with families looking to move into homes that suit their ‘new normal’.

Have you been involved in any unusual or unique property transactions you could disclose?

The most challenging job I’ve had in recent months was to exchange contracts for my client immediately on receipt of contract papers. This was required in order for them to secure their dream ‘forever home’. There was a lot at stake, and I did my best to gather as much information from public record as I could, in advance. I reported to my client on those findings ahead of receiving any official information from the sellers and we managed to exchange contracts just over two hours after receiving the contract papers.

What can people expect when appointing you as their conveyancing lawyer?

My clients can expect to be guided through the process step by step, receive pragmatic advice and hopefully a stress free experience!

Anna Barton is a partner in the Personal & Family Department and heads up the Residential Conveyancing Team. You can contact Anna at anna.barton@sintons.co.uk or on 0191 226 3743.

Prenuptial Agreements: unromantic or sensible?

After less than two years together, Jamie Redknapp and his now wife, Frida Andersson have married in secret. Whilst many people long for a whirlwind romance like theirs, it is always important to take a moment and reflect on the financial landscape of both parties, however unromantic this may seem.

It is undeniable that the stakes are high for these newlyweds who have both been married before, share six children from previous marriages and are expecting a child together in a matter of weeks. Further, whilst Frida Andersson is still considered to be fairly wealthy, Jamie Redknapp boasts an approximate net worth of £14million, making him the economically stronger party. We therefore cannot help but wonder whether the pair considered their financial positions prior to their marriage and what would happen if the nuptials end in divorce.

It is probable that Mr Redknapp will have a team around him who will be alive to these issues and likely he would have been advised to propose a pre-nuptial agreement.

Although a pre-nuptial agreement is not considered to be a legally- binding document within the UK, it is a factor that will be taken into consideration by a Judge upon determining a financial settlement in divorce proceedings. Particularly where the parties’ needs are easily met due to the fact there is a range of high value assets.

That being said, pre-nuptial agreements are not simply for the rich and famous and can be drawn up by a solicitor for anyone who already has or is likely to acquire more assets than the other.

The purpose of an agreement such as this is to provide clarity for couples in respect of how their assets will be divided in the event the relationship breaks down. In essence, it seeks to limit one party’s claim against the other on divorce.  The Court’s jurisdiction cannot be ousted and it is the judge who will have the final say but if it is entered into properly, then both parties should be held to it.

It is however extremely important that a person receives advice from a specialist solicitor if they are thinking about entering into a pre-nuptial agreement as the Court will expect certain requirements to be met, which include:

  • The agreement must be freely entered into by both parties;
  • Both parties must have a full appreciation of the implications of the agreement;
  • The agreement must be contractually valid and executed;
  • It should be entered into at least 28 days before the wedding;
  • It must not prejudice any children; and
  • Both parties should receive legal advice about the fairness of the agreement.

The terms upon which the parties agree is unique to each case however, typical terms in the agreement usually cover the following:

  • Protection of non-matrimonial property such as inheritance, family businesses; and
  • To provide for children from previous relationships which is of course relevant here.

There are advantages and disadvantages to nuptial agreements depending upon which side you are on.  Often the process can be tricky, because each party needs to be completely open about their own finances and then discuss and negotiate the terms. We would always encourage parties to do this in a collaborative way (rather than correspondence back and forth) which will provide less scope for misunderstanding.

Our collaboratively trained family team specialise in nuptial agreements and have a wide experience in dealing with a range of assets and terms within an agreement, no matter how complicated or unique they may be.

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 7878 or via our website.

Can I get the other party to pay my legal costs?

Following a relationship breakdown, you may find yourself in need of some legal advice but you may be concerned about how you will fund that advice.

Prior to 2012, public funding was available to the economically weaker party to secure legal advice and representation. Now legal aid is only available for victims of domestic violence (with few exceptions) which leaves some clients in, what may seem like an impossible position.

Try not to fret as there are various options available to clients who may have ‘matrimonial assets’ but they are unable to access them for purposes of the advice.

You could seek a loan on a commercial basis or alternatively a litigation loan which can be paid at the end of the case. A last resort is to apply for a Legal Services Payment Order (LSPO).

To be eligible for a LSPO you must show that:

  • You would not reasonably be able to obtain appropriate legal services for the proceedings, without an LSPO;
  • You have attempted to secure a loan to pay for legal services but have been unsuccessful;
  • Your solicitor is not willing to enter into a ‘Sears Tooth’ agreement (where the legal fees are paid out of the financial settlement reached at the end of the proceedings);
  • You cannot obtain legal services by granting a charge over assets to be recovered (for example, placing a charge on a property so legal fees would be paid once the property was sold); and
  • You are not entitled to public funding.

Upon considering such an application the Court will have regard to various factors including your present financial needs, resources, obligations and responsibilities and those you are likely to have in the foreseeable future, if you have explored alternative dispute resolution options such as mediation, whether the payer is legally represented and your conduct in the proceedings, amongst other things.

If the above conditions are satisfied the Court could make a LSPO and the other party would be ordered to pay your legal costs. The quantum of which would be decided by the Court and based on a cost schedule provided by your solicitor.

Therefore rather than thinking the situation is hopeless and before you try to embark upon litigation in person, it would be beneficial to seek legal advice to explore your funding options.

The team is happy to offer a brief no obligation discussion on these issues. You can contact us at 0191 226 7878 or via our website www.sintons.co.uk.

Sintons’ Court of Protection team expands further

The fast-growing Court of Protection team at Sintons is further expanding its team as its national workload continues to increase.

Caitlin Edwards is the latest addition to the team. She takes up a role as a paralegal to support its work in supporting people who have often had accidents resulting in serious life changing injuries, as well as supporting their families. 

The team, recently hailed as “efficient, knowledgeable and extremely professional” by Legal 500, is an area of significant progress and potential for Sintons, with its fast-developing reputation seeing it appointed in cases throughout the UK.

Caitlin, a law graduate from Durham University, said: “This is a fantastic role for me in a team which is known far and wide for its work.

“As a law graduate, a career in law has always appealed, and my role in Court of Protection work will also bring in my experience of supporting people who have sustained life-changing injury through my previous work with brain injury charity Headway.

“I’m really excited to become part of the Court of Protection team and to play my role in the next phase of its growth and development.”

Paul Nickalls, head of the Wills, Trusts and Probate department – of which the Court of Protection team is part – said: “Our Court of Protection team has worked very hard over the recent past to build on over 120 years of private client expertise and really make gains in this very niche area of work. As a result, we are increasingly being instructed nationally on the strength of our reputation and the consistent quality of our legal and client service.

“We are delighted to welcome Caitlin at this very exciting time for the department. The whole team are looking forward to working with her as we continue to grow our presence and capability even further, enabling us to support even more individuals and families across the UK.”

Sintons again recognised for capability across the board by Chambers 2022

Sintons has again been hailed as one of the leading law firms in the North of England in newly-released rankings from Chambers and Partners UK.

The firm, consistently praised for its strength and capability throughout the business, again wins recognition for its legal expertise, deep experience and first-rate levels of client service.

Practice areas across the business win recognition as leaders in their field, with healthcare again being confirmed as one of the key advisors nationally for its work with growing numbers of NHS Trusts, organisations, professionals and healthcare businesses across the UK.

Chambers and Partners 2022, published today, also highlights 17 of Sintons’ lawyers as being stand-out names in their specialism, many of whom are recognised in the legal marketplace as being leading figures regionally and nationally.

The rankings come only weeks after Sintons won similar praise across the board from Legal 500, which also recognised the wide-ranging expertise, legal capability and service excellence the firm delivers to its clients.

Both Chambers and Legal 500 are independent publications which assess and rank law firms and lawyers throughout the UK, based on interviews, examples of work, and client and peer testimonials.

“For over 125 years, Sintons has built a well-deserved reputation as a first-rate legal advisor delivering outstanding levels of service to its clients, and those values have remained at the heart of the firm since our foundation in 1896,” says managing partner Christopher Welch.

“That these key features are consistently highlighted by independent legal publications like Chambers and Partners, and recently Legal 500 too, is a huge endorsement of what we do here at Sintons. Businesses, families and individuals put their trust in us to deliver an outstanding legal and personal service and that is what we deliver.

“Chambers again confirms our strength across the whole Sintons business, with capability and talent running throughout the firm, and a shared commitment by everyone here to continue to build Sintons so it can be the best it can be. We are all delighted to again have our efforts recognised in this way.”

‘Very talented’ specialists in family team hailed by Legal 500

The family team at Sintons has won praise from Legal 500 2022 for its strong levels of capability and client service.

The team was highlighted for its work across the family law sphere, with individuals within the department having a strong focus on particular areas, giving a comprehensive offering to clients.

Practice head Louise Masters – hailed as a “life-saver” by one client testimonial cited in the independent guide – is praised for her national reputation in advising on serious injury and family law.

Sintons is one of the only law firms in the North of England to offer a specialist family neuro service, which has proved invaluable to families affected by life-changing injuries.

Elizabeth Gallagher too is cited as having specialism in complex financial remedy cases, which is vital in supporting Sintons’ client base of high net worth individuals.

Both Louise and Elizabeth are said to be “very talented” in their areas of specialism.

Client testimonials quoted by Legal 500 2022 point to Sintons as being “attentive and sympathetic, while remaining realistic and very helpful” and delivering strong levels of legal expertise and client service.

Christopher Welch, managing partner of Sintons, says: “Our family team is known for its deep capability and legal expertise, while also supporting clients with an outstanding bespoke service during what can be a very difficult time in their lives.

“We are absolutely committed to our clients, who are at the centre of everything we do, and to again win independent endorsement of the quality of the service we deliver is very pleasing and rightful recognition of the hard work of Louise and her team.

“Regularly, we are instructed in high value cases from across the UK, often involving significant complexities, and we are known as an advisor which will always fight hard in our clients’ interests to secure the very best outcome for them and their family, often using mediation to try and maintain as much of the relationship within that family as possible.

“Louise, Elizabeth and the team are committed to using every avenue possible to doing what is in the best interest of their clients, and it is that unrelenting focus on them which makes us the advisor of choice for so many individuals and families.”

Financial remedy on divorce

Sophie Dodds, Solicitor in the Family team at Sintons recently recorded a podcast, which is another in the series of Family related podcasts. In this episode, Sophie discusses financial remedy on divorce.

Please click on the play button below to listen.

Contentious wills and probate team hailed for expertise and client service

Sintons’ specialism in contentious wills and probate work has again been highlighted by Legal 500, winning praise for its ability to “cover every field with the best people for the job in hand”.

The team is hailed for its strength in areas including will administration and trust disputes, proprietary estoppel claims and Court of Protection cases, and is said to also be “comfortable handling more unusual cases” such as domicile disputes and will rectification applications.

Legal 500 2022 also praises the team’s close co-operation with other departments within Sintons, including dispute resolution, wills and probate, corporate, Court of Protection and agriculture and estates, which enables a first-rate service to be delivered to clients.

Head of practice Emma Saunders is again named as a rising star and is hailed for her “knowledge and reputation in the field and excellent judgement”.

Partner Angus Ashman and “conscientious, diligent and dedicated” solicitor Emelie Vardon are also named as being significant figures within the team.

Client testimonials quoted by Legal 500 point to Sintons’ expertise and outstanding service as being key factors in its offering.

‘They give you the confidence to know that they will deliver what is required,” said one.

Another stated: “Emma Saunders did a wonderful job during what was a very distressing time for me and my family. She was totally professional, transparent and extremely helpful throughout. I was particularly impressed with her enthusiasm, honesty and compassion towards our case.

“Our case was speedily resolved with upmost professionalism allowing it to be extremely cost effective. Emma Saunders is not only a top solicitor but such a lovely person.”

Christopher Welch, managing partner of Sintons, said: “We are regarded in the highest terms for our work in contentious wills and probate, an area of great specialism which also necessitates a bespoke and sensitive client service in what can often be distressing circumstances. Our team is known for its ability to deliver both to each and every client and we are very proud of that fact.”

Legal expertise and ‘impeccable’ service hailed in private client team

The wills, trusts and probate team has won recognition from Legal 500 2022 for its deep and growing expertise and the “impeccable” service it delivers to clients.

The team has been named among the leaders in its field in the North of England by the independent legal publication, which points to its increasing level of international instructions as being of particular significance in the marketplace.

“Sintons continues to develop its expertise in dealing with cross-border estates, in order to better handle the increasing number of instructions it has latterly been receiving from clients with assets located across the world,” Legal 500 said.

The “efficient, knowledgeable and extremely professional” Court of Protection team is also highlighted for its work and is identified as another key area of growth for the firm.

Paul Nickalls, head of private client and regularly acknowledged as a leader in his field, is again named as a leading individual in the North of England.

Senior associate Paul Collingwood is again named as a rising star, with Sophie Moore, who joined Sintons from a London-based firm, hailed as a significant appointment in Sintons’ growing Court of Protection offering.

Client testimonials cited in Legal 500 2022 point to Sintons’ expertise and client service as making a compelling offering.

“Sintons have provided impeccable, practical support to my family across a range of personal matters, often in difficult circumstances. They provide clear advice around the most complex areas,” said one.

Another added: “The Sintons team are specialists in their field and this makes a big difference when dealing with important matters. They are responsive and attentive to client needs.”

Christopher Welch, managing partner at Sintons, says: “For over 125 years, we have supported private clients across the UK – and increasingly around the world – with their future planning, ensuring provision is made for their loved ones in years to come. Our expertise in this area is nationally renowned, and continues to increase with strategic appointments and continued development of our offering.

“Under the leadership of Paul Nickalls, we continue to make significant progress in the most specialist parts of what we offer, with Legal 500 rightly highlighting our growing international dimension and fast-developing Court of Protection offering.

“The fact we have again been acknowledged for our combination of legal and client service excellence, which is what Sintons prides itself on and for which we are held in the highest esteem, is further independent endorsement of what we continue to deliver.”

Sintons once again wins praise from Legal 500 2022

Law firm Sintons has again maintained its reputation as one of the leading law firms in the North of England in newly-released rankings from Legal 500, winning plaudits for its strength and expertise across the firm.

Legal 500 2022, released today, renews its praise of Sintons and confirms them as being a go-to legal provider in the region in many key practice areas.

The independent publication – which ranks law firms and lawyers across the North, compiled as a result of examples of work, interviews and client and peer testimonials – names eight of Sintons’ lawyers as leading individuals, three as next generation partners and a further six as rising stars. One of its lawyers also secures the highly coveted accolade of being named in the Legal 500 Hall of Fame, in recognition of consistent achievement throughout their career.

The latest Legal 500 rankings add further to the long-standing reputation of Sintons – winner of five awards at the most recent Northern Law Awards, including overall Law Firm of the Year – as a leading player in the North of England, with national reach and capability in many of its departments.

The leading individuals at Sintons, as identified by Legal 500, are:

The next generation partners, as identified by Legal 500, are:

The lawyer named as member of the Legal 500 Hall of Fame is:

The rising stars at the firm are:

Christopher Welch, managing partner of Sintons, said: “We are very proud of the reputation we have built during our 125 year history as being a law firm which consistently offers legal excellence and an outstanding service to our clients, and for these two factors to again be recognised by Legal 500 as being a staple of Sintons’ offering is very pleasing.

We are delighted to maintain our position as one of the leading law firms in the North of England, with strength, capability and experience running throughout our practice areas.”

An overview of divorce

Sophie Dodds, Solicitor in the Family team at Sintons recently recorded a podcast, which is another in the series of Family related podcasts. In this epsiode, Sophie gave an overview of divorce.

Please click on the play button below to listen.

Be careful where you issue – The differences between Scottish and English law in respect of financial remedy on divorce

Being in the North of England we sometimes feel as though Scotland is just a stone’s throw away. Although our Scottish neighbours aren’t too far away, once we cross the border we’re faced with a whole new legal system which isn’t as close to the English legal system as you may think. In this article we will focus on divorce and finances on separation.

Divorce

If a marriage has irretrievably broken down, one party may decide to issue divorce proceedings. Where to issue depends on whether either party is domiciled in England or Scotland when the action began or whether either party is habitually resident. This means that the parties were either born in the country or have managed to create strong ties through residence or working. If parties can satisfy the criteria for both countries, the application is on a ‘first past the post’ basis.

Finances

When it comes to resolving the financial matters arising from the separation, whether the matter is dealt with in Scotland or England could result in a completely different outcome. Divorce and finance proceedings can be issued in separate jurisdictions but again, the Court will have to establish jurisdiction by ensuring the party applying has a real link to that particular country.

In English law the Court’s first consideration is the welfare of any children, whereas in Scottish law it is not. In English law the needs of the parties are the second consideration, whereas in Scottish law the Court will focus of the economic disadvantage of one party.

In English law pre- and post-marital assets can be taken into account where the parties’ needs cannot be properly met without them whereas with Scottish law generally pre- and post-marital assets are ringfenced. Parties can apply for lifetime spousal maintenance in England but maintenance in Scotland is limited to three years post-divorce. Interests under a will or potential benefits under a discretionary trust are considered in English law but not Scottish law.

By way of an example:

  • Wife (W) 46, Husband (H) 47, Children 8 and 6 living with H
  • W has a successful business and H is a stay-at-home dad
  • The family home is worth £600k, W contributed £250k towards the deposit prior to the marriage
  • W is due to receive £500k inheritance in a few years
  • Pensions are modest, no other assets of note

In English law the outcome would focus on the needs of the parties and the primary consideration would be the children. The contributions of the parties would likely be classed as equal and depending on the length of the marriage there would be a fairly even split in terms of assets, if not a slightly larger share to the husband as he will have the primary care of the children.

If Scottish law were applied, it is likely the £250k W contributed towards the family home would be deducted before the equity was split between the parties and the W would be able to retain her inheritance in its entirety.

In this scenario therefore the Scotland legal system would be more favourable for W and the England legal system would be more favourable for H.

It is therefore extremely important that where parties have the option of which country to issue divorce and financial remedy proceedings, they carefully consider the differences between the English and Scottish legal systems.

If you would like any advice in relation to divorce proceedings or resolving the financial matters arising from a separation, please do not hesitate to get in touch and one of our family team will be more than happy to offer assistance.

Chambers hails Sintons’ private client team for high net worth expertise

The private client team at Sintons has again been hailed as one of the leading advisors in the North of England, with Chambers continuing to praise the department for its legal capability and commitment to the highest possible standard of client care.

The specialist wills, trusts and estates team acts for clients throughout the UK in matters including wills, trusts, probate, administration of estates and succession planning, and has a national reputation in both its contentious and non-contentious work.

In newly-released rankings, Chambers again rates the team highly for its work in high net worth matters, praising its client-centric approach and the legal excellence that runs throughout the private client team, which won team of the year in the most recent Northern Law Awards. The team has also increased its guide ranking from band 3 to band 2.

Paul Nickalls, partner and head of private client at Sintons, alongside Emma Saunders, partner and head of contentious probate, continue to be hailed as go-to experts in their specialist areas of law by Chambers.  Both are regularly independently recognised for their capability and are widely regarded as leading advisors in the North of England. Senior associate Paul Collingwood has also been named as an associate to watch.

Chambers carries out an annual, independent ranking of law firms and lawyers, assessing all aspects of their specialism and service, based on examples of work, testimonials and interviews with lawyers.

“We are rightly regarded as being a team at the very top of its game, with huge levels of experience and expertise alongside outstanding young lawyers whose dynamism and ability is helping us to plan for the future,” says Paul.

“We are proud of our reputation for excellence, which we have worked very hard to earn, and our absolute commitment remains to deliver an outstanding service to each and every client.  Independent endorsement, like this one from Chambers, serves to confirm the standing we have in the marketplace – both regionally and nationally – and is recognition of the expertise that the firm possesses in this area of law.

“We are regularly instructed in matters of the highest complexity and value, which is where our expertise comes to the fore and why we are often appointed ahead of other advisors in what is a very crowded marketplace.  We are very proud to be regarded in the highest of terms and to again receive such praise from Chambers.”

Notable Chambers comments:

Paul Nickalls leads the wills, trust and probate team at the firm, and is also responsible for its personal and family department. He is noted for his “significant technical expertise and depth of experience” in private client matters.

Emma Saunders is an expert in contentious probate and Court of Protection matters, including Inheritance Act (1975) claims and trust disputes. “I would highly recommend her,” says a barrister, adding: “She is intelligent, pragmatic and hugely technical.”

Paul Collingwood is a senior associate in the firm’s personal and family department. “I regard Paul as an excellent solicitor, as well as a very decent and caring individual,” says an interviewee. “Paul has impressed with his patience, diligence, professionalism and caring attitude,” states another, adding: “Paul is swift to respond and has always provided sound and independent advice.”

Domestic violence and the law – a July 2021 update

In response to the demand for more adequate protection against domestic violence, the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, which is considered a landmark piece of legislation, has now received Royal Assent and should come into force during 2021/2022 by commencement regulations.

Concerns grew as reports of an increase in the number of domestic abuse cases rose throughout the coronavirus pandemic and the various lockdowns associated with that. Statistics have shown that during the months of lockdown, around 20% of all offences recorded to the police were flagged as domestic related, and victims have spoken out about the fact that increased time at home with their abuser has had a significant negative impact.

Crucially, the Act creates Britain’s first ever statutory definition of domestic abuse and emphasises that domestic abuse is not just physical violence but can also include emotional, economic and coercive or controlling abuse.

The Act also amends previous legislation in order to provide victims with better protection. For example, the Government have shifted towards strengthening legislation around controlling and coercive behaviour by criminalising post separation abuse. This means that there will no longer be a requirement for the abuser and the victim to live together as the Government recognises that after separation, victims can still often be subject to sustained and increasing controlling behaviour.

In the context of the Family Court, the Act will have a significant impact and will prohibit perpetrators of abuse from the ability to cross examine victims in person. This of course increased drastically when changes were made to Legal Aid provisions a few years ago and often the abuser was left without any legal representation.

In this respect, there will be a presumption that victims of abuse are eligible for special measures and will introduce an automatic ban on cross examination in person where one party has either; been convicted, given a caution for, or charged with certain offences against the other, there is an on-notice protective injunction in place, or there is ‘other evidence’ of domestic abuse.

Previously the Family Court was under a duty to consider whether a person’s participation in the proceedings or ability to give evidence was likely to be diminished by reason of vulnerability and if so, whether it was necessary to make one or more directions to assist them.

However, under the new Act, victims will automatically be eligible for special measures by way of presumption.

Special measures are provisions that will assist a party to give evidence in court proceedings and include giving evidence from behind a screen, via a live link or via assistance from an intermediary.

Other notable changes the Act introduces include the appointment and funding of an independent Domestic Abuse Commissioner, who will be responsible for representing victims and survivors, educating the public about domestic abuse, monitoring local authorities and statutory agencies in this respect, and holding statutory bodies to account in tackling domestic abuse.

It also introduces two new civil protection injunctions which are the domestic abuse protection notice (DAPN) for immediate protection and a domestic abuse protection order (DAPO) which is a more flexible long-term protection for victims.

A DAPN can ensure that the abuser may not contact or come within a specified distance of where the victim lives and can even evict or exclude the abuser from entering the premises that person lives in.

A DAPO would prohibit the party or require the party to do certain things and can be ordered at any time, including during existing proceedings.

The Act also introduces a Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme. This will require law enforcement to disclose to an individual or third party whether a current or former partner has a violent or abusive past, so long as it is reasonable and proportionate to do so and based on a credible risk of harm.

These are genuinely some ground-breaking steps for victims of domestic abuse.

Our Family team at Sintons understand and empathise with these difficult situations, which can often unfold quickly. If you feel you could benefit from our services, please contact us on 0191 226 7878 or by visiting our website.

Britney Spears: Comparison with the US

The #FreeBritney campaign has brought the issue of ‘conservatorship’ – or deputyship as we call it in the UK – to the fore.

The media has recently been awash with Britney Spears’ attempts to free herself from her conservatorship – a legal decision in the US where a judicial body appoints a person to assist in managing the financial and practical personal affairs of a person who is deemed to lack capacity to manage them.

In Britney’s case, it was her father, who was appointed during her high-profile breakdown in 2007. At that time, medical professionals and the Court deemed Britney unfit to make decisions for herself and, therefore, appointed a conservator to take care of her property and finances. He had also been appointed to make decisions regarding her personal welfare. However, in 2019 he stepped down from this appointment for health reasons.

Since that time, Britney has managed to rebuild her life, and now believes her father should not have such stringent control over her life – which, we heard in Court, apparently extended to almost every aspect of decision-making, from business deals to restricting visitors.

In the UK, a deputyship order would be granted if the Court of Protection was satisfied a person lacked capacity to deal with their property and financial affairs, whether on a permanent or temporary basis. Clearly, it is important that someone is looked after if they lose the ability to make decisions for themselves as, without this, it could leave them open to abuse.

The Court will only appoint someone that it believes will act in the individual’s best interests. Often, it is a family member who is chosen, such as a parent as in Britney’s case, or a professional.  In the UK, that person is called a “deputy”.

The underpinning legislation which all deputies must adhere to is set out in the Mental Capacity Act 2005 (MCA) which is designed to protect and empower those who lack capacity.

Someone can lack capacity to make some decisions, such as to decide on complex financial issues, but still have the capacity to make other decisions, like what items to buy in their shopping.

The MCA provides that we should always assume a person has capacity to make decisions, unless proved otherwise, and that we should always impose the least restrictive option. The decisions made on someone’s behalf must always be in their best interests.

The ability to prove that someone has regained capacity is something that can be considered by the Court of Protection based on evidence in support of that, as is the case in the US with Britney. It can cancel an order if that person is deemed to now have capacity to deal with property and financial affairs (for example, if the loss of capacity was temporary). Furthermore, the Court can also remove a deputy if it feels they have breached the rules that govern the role they have been given.

In a deputyship, it can be the case that the person appointed by the Court of Protection when a person loses capacity may not be who that individual themselves would have chosen – the Court makes the appointment they believe is right but, given the choice, the person may have chosen someone else. Whether that was the case with Britney Spears back in 2007 we don’t know, but her father was appointed by a US Court rather than being based upon any wishes that Britney may have previously set out.

While someone like Britney Spears, a global superstar who was only 25 when she had her breakdown, would probably never have thought she would be in this situation in her younger days, this is unfortunately a common occurrence.

Few people imagine they will be in a position where they will lack the ability to make decisions for themselves – but the reality is that it can happen to anyone, at any time. And the best thing any of us can do is to plan for such an eventuality, in the hope it will never be needed, but it will be there in case it ever is.

By making a Lasting Power of Attorney, you can appoint the person or people that you would like to make decisions on your behalf should it ever become necessary. Choice over who acts for you, and in what circumstances, is so important. These points being highlighted by the Britney case.

Britney’s case looks set to rumble on, in the full glare of the public eye, as she tries to free herself from the significant restrictions she believes she has been subject to for too long. The lesson we can all learn from this is to be prepared for the future as much as we possibly can be, to try and avoid the devastating fall-out we have seen in this and other cases.

Paul Collingwood is a senior associate in the specialist WillsTrusts & Estates team at Sintons. To speak to Paul about this or any other matter, contact him on paul.collingwood@sintons.co.uk or 0191 226 3713.

Sintons secures CQS reaccreditation

The specialist conveyancing team at Sintons has again secured accreditation which confirms its ability to deliver outstanding legal advice and client service.

Sintons has been reaccredited by the Conveyancing Quality Scheme (CQS) after an annual assessment to verify the law firm’s ongoing capability and commitment to delivering the highest standards.

The CQS, run by the Law Society, is a recognised quality standard for conveyancing which Sintons’ award-winning conveyancing team has held for a number of years.

It acts as an endorsement of Sintons’ capability and technical ability, verifying its reputation in the marketplace as an advisor capable of handling high-value and complex residential property matters.

The team, led by partner Anna Barton, is known on a national basis and regularly attracts work from private buyers and investors well beyond its native North East, and particularly from London. The majority of its work comes through recommendation and repeat instruction.

“CQS accreditation is something which recognises the highest standards in our area of practice and we are very pleased to have been reaccredited,” says Anna.

“This is an endorsement of our legal capability and the significant effort we invest in building relationships with our clients and delivering the best possible service to them. Many of our clients have been with us for many years, and routinely we act for multiple generations of families, which is testament to the trust we earn and strong bonds we build.

“Our team is known nationally for the quality of our service and we have a long track record in completing transactions of significant value and complexity for clients from throughout the UK. We are very proud of the work we do and the reputation we have built and this latest accreditation from the CQS is further evidence of what we are achieving.”

No Fault-Divorce – how is the divorce process going to change?

Following on from the last article which explained that no-fault divorce will now be coming into force in April 2022, here is a helpful guide to explain how things are going to change.

The current (albeit severely out of date) divorce process states that unless parties wish to wait 2 years post-separation to commence divorce proceedings, they must assign blame to one party. The facts that parties can rely on in these circumstances are adultery and unreasonable behaviour.

It was presumed that no-fault divorce would be an additional fact which could be used instead of adultery and unreasonable behaviour however, when no-fault divorce is introduced, parties will no longer be able to point the finger in this way.

Whilst on the one hand this is exactly what the update in the law set out to achieve i.e. a platform for a more amicable process which will allow parties to move on in a much more positive spirit, lawyers up and down the country will be wondering whether this change will meet our client’s needs.

Sometimes, there is a clear party who is to blame for the breakdown of the relationship and it can mean a lot to the other person to have their say, formally, about this.

This is surprising as the aggrieved party may wish to assign blame and will be prevented from doing so; the options have been taken away.

It is feared that clients who feel their matter is unresolved, because they have not been able to have their say, will seek to run ‘conduct’ arguments when dealing with the financial matters on divorce.

Conduct is one of the factors the Court can take into account when determining what is a fair financial settlement. At present, successful conduct cases are rare as only the most severe examples of conduct carry any weight. However, if one party is determined to assign blame it is possible that we will see more attempted conduct cases in future.

From April 2022, there will continue to be one ground of divorce, which is the irretrievable breakdown of marriage and rather than having to prove this using one of the five facts, a simple statement confirming that will suffice. It is worth pointing out that the facts of 5 years separation and 2 years separation with consent will still stand.

The Court will no longer seek to determine whether you are entitled to a divorce or dissolution based on your fact and rather will take the aforementioned statement as conclusive evidence. Following on from this, a divorce will be uncapable of being defended. Again, these types of applications are somewhat rare but when they do happen, they can be very stressful and costly.

Other key changes include parties being able to make a joint application, the other side can be served by email and the language for the procedure is also being modernised so the petitioner will be known as applicant and Decree Nisi as conditional order. These are extremely positive and overdue changes in updating the divorce process.

As ever, it is always advisable to seek specialist legal advice before embarking on this process or that associated with the financial situation.

This is a huge step in the right direction for a collaborative and amicable approach to Family law.  Time will tell whether complete removal of the blame factors is a step too far.

Should you wish to discuss any of the matters raised above or anything else relating to your family matter, then please get in touch.

Specialist private client lawyer becomes full member of SFE

A specialist private client lawyer at Sintons has received endorsement of his capability in supporting older and vulnerable clients.

Paul Collingwood has become a full member of Solicitors for the Elderly (SFE) and is one of a select group of lawyers nationally to hold such an accolade.

Paul, a senior associate in Sintons’ Wills, Trusts and Probate team, secured full SFE accreditation after a process of assessment, culminating in the SFE Older Client Care in Practice Award (OCCP).

During the process, both legal and personal skills are assessed by SFE, to ensure lawyers are delivering an all-round service to older and vulnerable clients.

Paul’s achievement sees him become the second fully-accredited SFE member at Sintons, joining head of department Paul Nickalls, and extending Sintons’ capability in supporting elderly clients even further.

The team – winner of Private Client Team of the Year at the most recent Northern Law Awards – already has a reputation for the outstanding quality of its legal advice and client service, and acts for private clients from across the UK, including many families who have been supported by Sintons for multiple generations.

“Paul securing full membership of Solicitors for the Elderly is a fantastic endorsement of his work, and the commitment he shows to supporting older and vulnerable clients every day. He consistently wins praise from our clients for the quality of his advice and the sensitive way in which he delivers this, and we are very proud to have him as part of our team,” says Paul Nickalls.

“This comes as further endorsement of the quality and capability of our team and the service we provide. We already work nationally, handling matters of great complexity and high value, and have seen a vast increase in work during the pandemic, as many people’s minds became focused on the need to plan for the future. But despite this very busy period, our commitment to delivering an outstanding service to each and every client has remained a constant, as it will always do at Sintons.”

Deciding who to Appoint as Deputy

A deputy is responsible for making decisions on behalf of another person who has been assessed as lacking the requisite mental capacity to make decisions for themselves. Those decisions can relate to property and financial affairs or health and welfare. Therefore, it is important that careful consideration is given to who should be appointed as deputy, including whether the deputy should be a lay deputy (such as a friend or family member), or a professional deputy (such as a legal practitioner or trust corporation).

Role of a Deputy

The role of a deputy is often an onerous one. It carries with it a great deal of responsibility. Anyone putting themselves forward as a deputy must have the time to fulfil the duties and obligations placed upon them by the Court of Protection. They must act in accordance with the legislation that underpins the appointment. The deputy will need to understand their responsibilities under the Mental Capacity Act 2005, the Code of Practice, the Court of Protection Rules, and the Deputy Standards.

A fundamental part of the Mental Capacity Act 2005 is the requirement to act in a person’s best interests. When establishing what would be in a person’s best interests, the deputy must consider the person’s present and past wishes and feelings, their beliefs and values that would likely influence the person’s decision, written statements made when they had capacity and any other factors which the person would likely consider if they were able to do so. The deputy must also involve the individual who is deemed to be lacking capacity as much as is reasonably practicable and consult with those close to that individual where appropriate.

Deputies are supervised by the Office of the Public Guardian and the Court of Protection imposes a level of supervision on the deputy. At least once a year, the deputy is required to submit a detailed report to the Office of the Public Guardian setting out the decisions made on behalf of the person who lacks capacity. This is to ensure that all decisions made by the deputy are made in the person’s best interests. In addition to the annual reporting requirement, a deputy must keep all documentation including receipts, DWP and Local Authority correspondence and reports from heath organisations like the NHS.

Professional Deputy or Lay Deputy

Anyone who knows the person who lacks capacity, including friends and family members, can apply to the Court of Protection to be appointed as a “lay deputy”. Alternatively, a legal practitioner or a trust corporation can be appointed to be a “professional deputy”.

Whether it is appropriate to appoint a professional deputy will depend on the individual circumstances. A professional property and financial affairs deputy might be appointed where an individual has more complex financial affairs which require careful management. If a person is due to receive a large sum of money from a personal injury or medical negligence claim, the Court of Protection will often order that a professional property and financial affairs deputy is appointed to manage these funds. A professional property and financial affairs deputy will deal with all financial matters on behalf of the person including, but not limited to, making payments and monitoring cashflow, dealing with the purchase and adaptation of property, employing the services of care and therapy teams, and ensuing that the person is receiving the maximum state benefits they are entitled to. By instructing a professional deputy to deal with such matters, allows the injured party and their family to focus on rehabilitation and rebuilding their life post-accident.

At Sintons, we have a designated trust corporation which can act as a professional property and financial affairs deputy. It is supported by a specialist team of highly experienced Court of Protection legal practitioners. If you would like further information or advice regarding the Court of Protection or assistance with an application, please do not hesitate to contact any member of our Court of Protection team on 0191 226 7878.

No Fault Divorce – April 2022

After 30 years of family law professionals campaigning for change in the divorce laws, it has been announced that we need to wait a little longer for no-fault divorce. The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill was given the go-ahead in June 2020. The purpose of the act was to end the ‘blame-game’ and enable couples to file for divorce without assigning blame to one party.

At present, there is only one ground for divorce – the irretrievable breakdown of marriage. When using this ground, it must be coupled with one of five facts. Three of the five facts rely on the parties being separated for a period of two years or more. The other two facts are adultery and unreasonable behaviour. In practice this means that if parties do not wish to wait two years post separation to file for divorce, one party must take the blame for the breakdown of the marriage.

This is an unfortunate reality and can create a large amount of animosity between the parties. The divorce particulars can make matters more difficult when attempting to resolve the financial and property matters arising from the separation or, more importantly, this can have a great effect on parties who are attempting to co-parent.

The aim of the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 is to allow married couples to divorce without assigning blame and ultimately create a more amicable separation. The Act was rumoured to come into force in Autumn 2021. Ministers announced recently that the law will come into force on 6th April 2022. Although the delay may be disappointing to some, at least this will allow people to plan effectively.

Only time will tell as to whether there is a surge in petitions with people holding off for this immensely positive step in the right direction.

Should you wish to discuss any of the matters raised above or anything else relating to your family matter, then please get in touch.

Contentious probate specialist rejoins Sintons

The contentious probate offering at Sintons has been strengthened further with the addition of a highly-regarded specialist to the team.

Jonathan Grogan has a wealth of experience in dealing with contentious probate and trust disputes, as well as Court of Protection disputes, and has acted for individuals, charities and professional trustees across the UK during his career.

Having previously been part of Sintons’ private client team to develop his advisory and non-contentious capability, his dual specialism of contentious and non-contentious work adds further to the law firm’s expertise and offering to clients.

Associate Jonathan – hailed by Legal 500 as being “able to plot his way through complex, multi-faceted issues with clarity” – is also a full member of the Association of Contentious Trust and Probate Specialists (ACTAPS) at the firm, regarded as endorsement of expertise in this niche area of law.

He is also a full member of the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP), another sought-after endorsement for private client work which is awarded after a rigorous assessment process.

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 Jonathan, also an associate lecturer at Northumbria University.

“I am very pleased to be part of it and to have the opportunity to re-join Sintons. My previous work here will be invaluable in helping to inform how best to analyse a case and deal with the various technical issues that feature in trust and probate disputes, and that can only be of benefit to the firm and, crucially, our clients.”

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 Jonathan 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 someone of Jonathan’s experience and expertise, which brings in both contentious and non-contentious experience, enhances our capability even further. We look forward to working alongside him to help take our ambitions forward further still.”

New leadership and promotions for Sintons’ Personal & Family team

The Personal and Family Department at Sintons is moving forward with new leadership, as it seeks to push on with plans to grow its presence in the North East and wider UK.

Through a series of high-level promotions, which build the reputation and expertise of Sintons even further, the highly esteemed department is now better placed than ever to drive forward its ambitions nationally.

Under the new leadership of Paul Nickalls, the Personal and Family Department – which brings together Sintons’ Family, Residential Property, Court of Protection and Wills, Trusts and Probate Teams – will continue to develop its range of services, while bringing in new talent and developing its existing team of lawyers.

Paul, regularly named as one of the leading solicitors in the North of England by both the Legal 500 and Chambers, is a highly experienced private client lawyer who is appointed to work on complex, high value administration of estates and inheritance tax planning matters.

He continues in his role as head of the Wills, Trusts and Probate Team, which was named Private Client Team of the Year at the most recent Northern Law Awards.

The Personal and Family Department is further boosted by the appointment of two new partners in Louise Masters and Emma Saunders.

Louise, a specialist family solicitor who regularly works in high-value matrimonial matters and in cases involving children, has also become the new head of the renowned Family Team which won Family Law Team of the Year at the Northern Law Awards.

Emma, hailed as a leader in her specialist area of contentious probate work by the Legal 500 and Chambers alike, has significantly raised the profile and capability of Sintons in the field of contentious private client work since her relocation from a top 100 London law firm.

Additionally, Sophie Robinson-Davies, who leads the Court of Protection Team, has been promoted to associate in recognition of her achievements in growing the team and its national reputation.

“Our Personal and Family Department is one of the strongest and most highly-esteemed in the North of England, and we are regularly instructed in matters from across the UK in all four of our specialist teams, particularly those of significant value and complexity,” says Paul.

“Through the new senior appointments and leadership changes, we are better positioned than ever before to continue to progress. Backed by a team of dynamic and highly capable lawyers, I will work alongside Louise, Emma, Sophie and our head of residential property Anna Barton to develop our presence on a national level even further.”

Christopher Welch, managing partner of Sintons, says: “Our Personal and Family Department comprises the expertise our private clients need, with the levels of unrivalled client service which means we have become the trusted advisor to generations of families across the UK. Sintons as a firm is built on this ethos, and we are very proud of our reputation for consistently delivering this.

“Through the appointment of Paul as head of department, supported by the promotions of Louise, Emma, and Sophie to reflect the leadership roles they fulfil within the firm, coupled with the outstanding service they continually deliver to clients, we are again demonstrating our commitment to investing in our people and offering opportunities for professional development.

“We will continue to invest in the progression of our personal and family team as we press on with efforts to grow further both regionally and nationally.”

Family Law specialist joins Sintons

The specialist family law team at Sintons has added a new solicitor to its ranks, as it continues to receive growing levels of instructions from across the UK and internationally.

Sophie Dodds joins the award-winning team with several years of experience of working in family law across the North East and Cumbria.

She advises on the full spectrum of family matters, from divorce and arrangements regarding children and financial affairs, through to disputes involving unmarried couples and pre- and post-nuptial agreements.

Sophie is also a member of Resolution and promotes its ethos of a constructive approach to family issues.

“Sintons has an outstanding reputation for its stellar legal advice in the family law arena and is known across the North of England for tenacious approach to secure the best outcomes for their client and their family. Its commitment to delivering legal excellence alongside an unrivalled client service is central in ensuring it stands out in the marketplace,” says Sophie.

“I’m really pleased to move to Sintons, a firm which shares my strong belief in building strong and trusting relationships with clients, which is so important in an area like family law, where often you are meeting people during distressing and highly emotional points in their lives.”

“I look forward to working with the rest of the team to continue to build our capacity and capability and continue to grow our presence on a national and international level.”

Louise Masters, partner and head of family law at Sintons, says: “We are very proud of the reputation we have for our expertise in family law, handling matters of great complexity often involving very significant levels of assets, and striving to secure the very best outcome for our clients, their family and their unique circumstances. Our clients are absolutely central to all that we do, and are our unrelenting focus at all times.

“We are very pleased to bring Sophie into the team, who shares this dedication to clients, as well as our focus on promoting a collaborative and constructive approach to resolving matters where appropriate and possible.

“As expert advisors whose advice is regularly sought on a national and international basis, we continue to add new expertise and excellence to the team, and look forward to working alongside Sophie as we build this even further.”

High Court confirms the test for Testamentary Capacity

In the recent appeal decision in Clitheroe v Bond [2021] EWHC 1102 (Ch), the court have confirmed that the test of testamentary capacity remains that which was laid out in the historic case of Banks v Goodfellow (1870).

In Clitheroe v Bond, the daughter of the deceased (Susan Bond) had disputed the validity of her mother’s last two wills on the basis that the deceased lacked testamentary capacity due to a continuing affective disorder, manifested by depression and insane delusions regarding Mrs Bond. The original trial judge agreed and overturned the two wills for a lack of testamentary capacity. This resulted in the deceased’s son, John Clitheroe, appealing on several grounds. The first of these was the basis of the test applied to determine testamentary capacity.

Testamentary capacity has for a long period been based on the test set out in Banks v Goodfellow from 1870. This outlines that, at the time of creating the will, a testator must:

  • Understand the nature of making a will and its effects;
  • Understand the extent of the property they are disposing of under the will;
  • Be aware of the persons for whom they would usually be expected to provide (even if they choose not to); and
  • Be free from any disorder or delusion of the mind that would influence his will in disposing of his property and bring about a disposal of it which, if the mind had been sound, would not have been made.

A number of cases, including James v James [2018] EWHC 43 (Ch) and Walker v Badmin [2014] EWHC 71 (Ch), have considered whether the introduction of the Mental Capacity Act 2005 affected this test of testamentary capacity. However, the Banks v Goodfellow test remained applicable following the conclusion of these cases. Indeed, at the original hearing in Clitheroe v Bond in 2020 both sides had agreed to proceed on the basis that Banks v Goodfellow was the correct legal test.

In the Clitheroe v Bond appeal, although Mrs Justice Falk found that it would not be in the interests of justice to permit an appeal on the argument that the Mental Capacity Act 2005 has overridden the Banks v Goodfellow test, she chose to set out her reasons for concluding that such a ground would have failed in any event.

Mrs Justice Falk stated that the question of whether a will is valid is not in her view addressed by the Mental Capacity Act 2005 and is not one of the purposes for which the Act was made.  She found that the Banks v Goodfellow test has not been overridden by the Mental Capacity Act and that there is no sufficiently good reason to depart from the well-established case law.

Mr Clitheroe also appealed relating to the test for delusions applied by the original trial judge. Mrs Justice Falk commented on the correct application for the test for delusions, finding that it is not clear from previous case law that, as an absolute rule, a delusion can only exist if it is shown that it was impossible to reason the individual out of the belief. Instead, she noted that this is one way of demonstrating that it amounts to a delusion. She explained the correct test is that the delusions are irrational and fixed in nature.

However, Mrs Justice Falk adjourned the appeal in relation to the test for delusions for a period of three months to allow for the parties to consider the judgment and opinions as given and determine if an agreement between the parties can be reached without the need for a further hearing.

Will disputes and other estate disputes require the expertise of a specialist contentious probate solicitor. If you would like to discuss a potential will dispute, then please contact Emma Saunders on 0191 226 3293 or at emma.saunders@sintons.co.uk.

Are you a care home provider? Covid and a loss of capacity of a resident can impact on your business

A care home provider’s regular flow of income inevitably comes from residents paying their fees on time. Care home providers have been, and will continue to be, affected by residents losing the capacity to authorise payments and by them not having the appropriate lasting power of attorney (LPA) in place to enable someone to arrange payment on their behalf.

Over the past year, Covid has also been an extremely challenging time for care home providers. Restrictions have meant that residents have had to stay indoors and family members have not been able to visit their loved ones until recently. As a result, we have seen care home providers struggle with their cash flow due to residents not having put in place a LPA for property and financial affairs.

The ability to collect in residential fees promptly is essential for many care homes to remain open, not least during difficult times such as the Covid pandemic. By a resident having a LPA, this facilitates payment. It is essential that care homes ensure provision is made for payment of fees as the effect of late payments can impact heavily on the day-to-day running of the business.

As a matter of course, a care home provider will assess the mental capacity of its residents and will discuss how payments are to be made. However, it should also be established whether the resident will retain responsibility for his or her own financial affairs or whether he or she would like to appoint someone else (known as an “attorney”) to act on his or her behalf via a LPA should he or she lose capacity in the future to deal with property and financial matters. The resident can also give consent for the LPA to be used before a loss of capacity if he or she wishes. Using the LPA with his or her consent can assist in circumstances where Covid restrictions continue to be in place. The attorney could be a trusted family member, friend, or a professional advisor. By a resident having a LPA in place, this will ease the burden on care home providers to pursue outstanding fees. Even if the resident is unable to arrange payment for whatever reason then, depending on the circumstances and the how the LPA has been drafted, the resident’s attorney can arrange payment. There are so many advantages for both the care home provider and the resident, for the resident to have a LPA in place.

Should a resident lose capacity without a LPA in place, someone will have to apply to the Court of Protection to become a deputy in order to ensure that the care provider’s fees are paid from the resident’s funds. An application to the Court of Protection can be a lengthy and expensive process. This can have a further huge impact on care home providers who need to ensure that wages, maintenance and other fees are paid in order for the business to run efficiently.

To avoid the potential difficulties that can arise if a resident loses capacity to deal with his or her own affairs, it is worthwhile for the care home to discuss LPAs from the outset with the resident and put a plan in place in case the resident needs someone to assist him or her.

Paul Collingwood is a senior associate in the specialist WillsTrusts & Estates team at Sintons. To speak to Paul about this or any other matter, contact him on paul.collingwood@sintons.co.uk or 0191 226 3713.

Protective planning & family law update

Partner and Head of Family at Sintons Louise Masters recently recorded a webinar for Founders Friday where she discussed protective planning & gave a family law update.

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.

Nuptial Agreements and Farming Divorces

Getting divorced is ranked as being one of the most stressful life events a person can experience. It is impossible to look into a crystal ball and see if a marriage will break down. Equally, there is no automatic formula that can be applied to work out how assets will be divided upon divorce, as judges have a wide discretion as to how to apply the law.

More and more people are therefore trying to limit the uncertainty of what will happen to their assets on divorce by entering into Nuptial Agreements. Such Agreements are either signed before a marriage, (a Pre-Nuptial Agreement) or after a marriage, (a Post-Nuptial Agreement).

Nuptial Agreements can be particularly helpful in the case of a farming divorce as there is likely to be an overlap between business and personal assets and there may be other family members involved in the business, which may have been built up over several generations.

Although Nuptial Agreements are not written into statute in England and Wales, (laws are different in Scotland), there is a good chance that Nuptial Agreements will be upheld by the English Courts if drawn up properly and meet certain requirements.

The Landmark case was Radmacher v Gramatino, in 2010 as for the first time, the Supreme Court made it clear that a Nuptial Agreement will be upheld unless one person can show why it should not be.

The Supreme Court said that “the Court should give effect to a 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”.

Since this decision, the Law Commission published a report in 2014 and recommended the introduction of “Qualifying Nuptial Agreements”. With a Qualifying Nuptial Agreement a couple will be able to make binding arrangements for division of their assets on divorce if certain procedural safeguards are met.  The Law Commission recommended that it would not be possible to contract out of meeting the financial needs of either party and of any children.

Although the Law Commissioners recommendations have not yet been enacted, the Courts are likely to uphold the terms of a Nuptial Agreement if certain requirements are met.  These requirements include: –

  1. The terms need to be fair, viewed against the circumstances at the time of the divorce.
  2. The parties must enter the Agreement without any duress and the Agreement must be signed at least 28 days before the marriage.
  3. Both parties must fully understand the terms of the agreement, have obtained independent legal advice, or had the opportunity to do so.
  4. Both parties must provide full details regarding their financial circumstances.

One difficult issue with Nuptial Agreements is that they are being considered without knowing when the marriage will break down and what the circumstances will be at the time of the breakdown.  In a farming divorce for example, the factors to be considered if a marriage breaks down after 5 years where there are no children and the non-farming spouse has worked independently from the farm, will be completely different to a marriage that breaks down after 20 years where there are children, and the non-farming spouse has worked in the business since the marriage.

For this reason it is generally advisable to put a review clause in a Nuptial Agreement so that the Agreement is reviewed every few years, and on the happening of any significant events such as the birth of a child.

Discussing what will happen to farm assets in the event of a divorce, may sound unromantic when a couple are planning their wedding.  It can however save a lot of stress, uncertainty and costs, not to mention the potential souring of relationships with extended family members, if the marriage does come to an end at some future date.

When considering a Nuptial Agreement, it is important to look at what the law says about how assets on divorce will be divided as given the criteria set out above, if an Agreement is deemed not to be fair, it is unlikely to be upheld.

There is little point in investing time and money in having a Nuptial Agreement prepared if it is not going to be enforceable.  There needs therefore to be a realistic discussion about what both parties will need in the event of a divorce and what assets there are to be divided.

There may be complicated discussions about assets deemed to be “non-matrimonial” as opposed to “matrimonial assets”. A spouse with the initial interest in the farm particularly where there are other family members involved, will no doubt be under pressure to try and ringfence all assets deemed to be “non-matrimonial”. This may not be possible if the needs of the non-farming spouse cannot be met.

Equally, a Nuptial Agreement that provides a financial settlement that is likely to be less favourable than if ordered though the court, stands a good chance of being upheld, provided the criteria set out above are satisfied.

Farming businesses are often cash rich and income poor.  The Court is unlikely to order the sale of a farm but there may need to be some creative thinking as to how a financial settlement can be provided to the non-farming spouse to enable them to be re-housed and to move forward with their lives.

Having such discussions and possibly involving other family members who are involved in the business, may result in a more constructive outcome and will incur a lower level of costs, than if such discussions take place in the shadow of Court proceedings as part of an acrimonious divorce.

Moreover, having such conversations before, or in the early days of marriage, may help a couple and other family members to be able to communicate openly with each other. Hopefully this will build trust and lay a solid foundation, not only for the couple in their personal relationship, but also for the successful continuation of the business.

Elizabeth Gallagher is a consultant in Sintons’ award-winning family team. To speak to Elizabeth, please contact her on elizabeth.gallagher@sintons.co.uk or 0191 226 7813.

Planting the seeds now for the future

Succession planning for a farmer is difficult – even at the best of times – but by having open discussions now with your family you will be able to clarify intentions and plan for who will own and deal with the farm once you retire or die. These discussions will enable you to put in place key documents so that you are able to protect the farming business in the future.

Inheritance tax planning and will planning

It is important for a farmer to have a will so that the assets pass to the right beneficiaries in the most tax efficient way. My last article discussed the intricacies of inheritance tax planning for a farmer and the potential of claiming agricultural property relief and business property relief when you die. Inheritance tax planning and having a will are integral to a farmer’s succession planning. By not having a valid will in place, you could cause lasting damage to the farm and to your family.

Other key documents for effective planning

Further key steps for future proofing the farming business – including partnership agreements and lasting powers of attorney (LPA) – must be considered in line with how your farming business is structured to ensure that the business continues effectively if certain circumstances arise.

If you are farming in partnership with someone else, you should ensure that you have a written partnership agreement in place. Many spouses or family run farms operate within a partnership structure but do not have a partnership agreement. If you do not have a partnership agreement and one of the partners dies, this can have a detrimental effect on the farming business. The law dictates what happens to that partnership and it can cause issues, for example, with accessing bank accounts which, in turn, causes problems for the business, your family and the surviving business partner. By having a carefully drafted partnership agreement and by regularly reviewing it once it is in place, you will be acting both in the best interests of your family and in the farming business’s sustainability.

A LPA for property and financial affairs allows you to appoint people (your “attorneys”) that you know and trust to make decisions and act on your behalf if you need them to, for example, if you have an accident out on the field and need a period of rest to recuperate either in hospital or at home. You may need assistance with operating bank accounts so that suppliers and employees are paid. Alternatively, you may end up losing capacity to deal with your property and financial affairs and need your attorneys to step in permanently. You must make a LPA whilst you have the requisite capacity to do so. By having an LPA for property and financial affairs, you are ensuring the survival of the farm beyond a lack of capacity. Whilst there is the option of someone stepping in and applying to the Court of Protection to be appointed as your deputy so that he or she can have access to the farm assets on your behalf and make decisions in your best interests, this is a costly and time-consuming exercise. Time can be of the essence.
Planning and reviewing

It cannot be emphasised enough the importance of not delaying discussions and putting effective succession plans in place before it is too late. Even if you have put some plans in place, it is equally important to review them to see if they need changing in light of any current wishes you have, or changes made to the farming business since putting them in place.

Paul Collingwood is a senior associate in the specialist Wills, Trusts & Estates team at Sintons. To speak to Paul about this or any other matter, contact him on paul.collingwood@sintons.co.uk or 0191 226 3713.

Living in a digital age

More and more of us are holding assets online, rather than physically, and hence they are referred to as “Digital Assets”. Most of us have at least one or two of the following:

  • Photos on a social media app, such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram
  • Music downloads stored on a computer
  • Email accounts
  • Loyalty points, such as Airmiles
  • An account on an internet payment site, such as PayPal; and
  • Bitcoin and cryptocurrency (this is a digital wallet with monetary value).

Few of us give any thought as to what will happen to our digital assets on death or even how our executors would track them down. Who will become the keeper of our photos, blogs, music and what will happen to our money held within the digital wallet? Ownership of our digital assets and online accounts on death is far less certain than standard assets such as houses, bank accounts and shares.

Some social media accounts, such as Facebook, have a legacy setting which allows us to choose someone to look after our account when we die which will give that person time to download our memories and pass them on to our loved ones.  Other websites prohibit us from passing on our login details to other people and, on our death, they will simply close the account and the data will simply be lost.

Loyalty providers set their own rules on whether points or cashback accrued can be passed on when we die.  Sometimes an executor can claim these, but time can be of the essence and knowing that we have these in the first place is crucial to making this happen.

When making a will, we should consider our digital assets.

We should:

  • Review the assets and the information that we hold digitally in online accounts and make a list of these for our executors. The Law Society recommends that we make such a “Personal Assets Log” and store it with our will.  We should not include passwords or any login details in our will as our will often becomes a public document to view following our death.
  • Review the information and assets held in online accounts and consider how they should be administered following our Within the terms and conditions agreed to when we create an online account, there may be terms on which assets can be administered on death.  As mentioned above, there are some websites which make specific provisions for another person to receive data from our account after our death, if we agree to this in advance.  Our executors will need to know where we have bitcoin or other type of cryptocurrency so that it does not lay undiscovered.
  • Print off copies or download onto a memory stick any photographs and documents that are only stored digitally and keep them in a safe place where our executors can find them.
  • Print off copies or download any important emails or documents and stored these in a folder with our other papers.
  • Give careful consideration when leaving technology, such as computers or mobile telephones, to individuals on our death since our personal information and photos are often stored on them.

Knowing how our digital assets will be dealt with on our death and the effect of these on our will requires careful consideration.  As part of drafting your will, my colleagues and I will guide you on your digital assets and how best to pass these onto the people who you would like to receive them.

Paul Collingwood is a senior associate in the specialist Wills, Trusts & Estates team at Sintons. To speak to Paul about this or any other matter, contact him on paul.collingwood@sintons.co.uk or 0191 226 3713.