Diary of a private client practitioner: 5th May 2023

2023: when I prepared my first column in January, I wasn’t expecting to be off for a number of months due to illness. What I have learnt in this time is that even the best laid plans go awry, and you have to prepare for the unexpected…

This week (thankfully) marks my first full week back at work following a phased return, and hopefully the start of regular weekly columns going forwards. Whilst it has been a rollercoaster of a ride, it has also helped remind me of how much support I have received from my loved ones and how important the role we play to our clients, as legal practitioners, is for those of us that practice in disputes arising after death. We wear many hats and are often:

  • An advocate for those going through one of the most difficult times of their lives;
  • Assisting those who are at their most vulnerable;
  • Dealing with the unexpected, and our client(s) are often dealing with very personal and emotive issues;
  • Part of our client(s) support network at this important time – which I appreciate can often feel like we are counselling as well as offering legal advice;
  • Called upon to communicate clearly and effectively to ensure we can lessen the burden on our client(s) during this time; and
  • Seeing them and their families cope with grief and loss all overlayed on top of an ongoing dispute.

In helping our clients, whether they are; fighting for a  share of their families’ money or property, working through issues that (may) have been unresolved since childhood or defending claims and allegations made against them, it has become more important than ever before that we not only are aware of and apply the law, but are part of our clients’ team; a trusted advisor.

As such we become someone who our clients can confide in, and turn to, in their hour of need. We need to create a bond to ensure they can be honest with us, which can often be very difficult, so we can work with them to form the best strategy to work towards obtaining the result they want, wherever possible, whether that is achieved by using alternative dispute resolution or Court proceedings. These are some of the things I have been asked to assist clients with:

  • Confirm or challenge the validity of their loved ones Will;
  • Confirm or challenge lifetime gifts;
  • Arrange for inheritance (and other) taxes to be paid;
  • Arrange for the family home to be sold;
  • Remove an executor or administrator;
  • Confirm how an estate will be administered;
  • Obtain certainty as to a settlement sum to be paid;
  • Bring a dispute to an end with other family members so they can draw a line under it and start afresh; and
  • Recover their garden gnomes (or other personal belongings including access to the family pet!).

What I have learnt, in spades, over the last few months, is how crucial to the entire process communication is, in all forms: regular updates, picking up the phone, breaking down the complicated legal process so it is more understandable, or answering those questions that keep our clients awake at night. In their time of need, we need to ensure we put ourselves in their shoes; that we work towards what they want to achieve (though this sometimes means lowering their expectations to something more realistic) and always having them and their best interests at the heart of what we do.

All too often, it is concerning that our clients’ disputes are used as an arena to trade blows and score points. Often this can open up issues that are entirely unnecessary and irrelevant to the legal process and are not in the client’s best interests. We are there to help our clients navigate one of the most difficult – and stressful – periods of their lives. Hopefully we can focus on what really matters. Sometimes we need to be the person they can feel assured is fighting their corner; on other occasions we have to be a sounding board and help them to navigate away from negative or destructive behaviours. We can then begin to help them to end their dispute and be able to look forward to the future, without family disharmony and the threat of litigation hanging over their heads.


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