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HCR Law Events

26 June 2023

A day in the life of… Beth King-Smith

I specialise in disputes over wills, inheritance and trustees / executors / beneficiaries falling out. Each day can be quite different as a result, but never boring. Clients often tell me that they never thought they would need a will disputes lawyer to help them.

To that extent my services are always a distress purchase. No one ever wants to be in a position where they feel they need to bring a claim against an estate for their own provision. Equally, no one ever wants to be dragged in to defending a claim made by others against an estate. This means that some days involve helping fraught and emotional clients.

I normally like to start each day with some form of exercise – whether that’s a high intensity gym workout or a walk in the fresh air – as it sets me up for the day ahead. Next up a protein shake and a quick coffee before checking emails and any voice messages before making myself presentable. I’m lucky that I get to work in a number of the firm’s offices. The view for the day could be the river Nene from the Central England office in Northampton, the magnificent cathedral in Worcester or Colmore business district in Birmingham city centre. My movement across the West Midlands is as a result of our clients’ needs.

Today has started in the Worcester office. First up I need to finish a witness statement for a client who is applying to remove her co-executor and seeking to ask the court to approve an application to appoint an independent administrator. The co-executor is her sister and unfortunately siblings falling out after a parent dies is extremely common. My top tip is to think hard when making a will about who is the best person to be an executor; your children aren’t often best placed as, understandably, they can be so upset and emotional that all common sense goes out the window.

Having sorted that and sent the final draft to the client for approval, I’ve got a catch up with my trainee solicitor. We need to go through a number of cases to check we are on track. Today I approve a letter to other solicitors requesting a copy of the original will file for one client who thinks her mum was unduly influenced to change her will. I also approve a draft consent order to circulate to the other side on another case where we have agreed in correspondence to a ‘stay of proceedings’. This means putting a pause button on the court process – in this case for three months. The parties want to try to see if they can settle the dispute by holding a mediation. Lots of my cases are settled at mediation rather than court because this allows the parties to be creative in a private setting – unlike the rigmarole of court – and find a resolution that each party can live with. It also saves the costs and trauma often involved with taking cases all the way to court. I ask my trainee to complete some new tasks on cases we are working on, update her on a call I had with one client yesterday and ask her to draft a letter to the other side with an offer of settlement for me to check tomorrow.

Following the catch up I review my emails again and see that I need to authorise payment of a significant settlement to a client. I then give a couple of my other team members in the other offices a quick call to check in with them and say hello. One of the challenges of being across a number of offices is making sure we stay connected. All is well with them, so I am free to attend to some matters on my to-do list.

I call another solicitor on the other side of a case to discuss the final draft settlement agreement terms and to see if we can agree to split the deceased’s ashes as part of the agreement. This case is between the second wife of the deceased and the children from the deceased’s first marriage. The parties have found it hard to reach a middle ground so the solicitor and I are doing all we can to get this one over the line before they all fall out again.

After that I need to run for the train to Birmingham for an afternoon conference with the counsel. We have live proceedings and we are meeting with the client to discuss the way ahead and the possibility of suggesting a mediation with the other side. This case is particularly sensitive as the client’s husband committed suicide and there is a farming partnership dispute with his family, so the stakes are high.

Once the conference is over, I catch up with the barrister after the client has left, check my emails again and my movements for tomorrow. I’ve agreed to meet one of my peers at another firm in Birmingham after work for a bite to eat and a chat. After that it’s back to the train station, a read of The Times app and catching up with family / friends / work WhatsApp groups on the way back.

My role is varied and it’s the combination of being able to help clients navigate a difficult time, working with a super team and making and maintaining professional connections that really keep it interesting.

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About the Author
Beth King-Smith, Partner, Head of Disputed Wills, Trusts & Estates and Worcester Private Client team

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