Catharine is partner in our Private Client department. She is an international private client lawyer with particular expertise in contentious trusts and estates, as well as wealth structuring, family governance and varied advice to family offices. Catharine is recognised within the private wealth industry as a leading expert in both contentious and non-contentious work.
She advises high net worth individuals and their trustees on the creation and fortification of trust vehicles and other succession planning structures, for asset protection and wealth preservation reasons. This includes the use of family governance mechanisms in the management of potential intra-familial disputes, and advice on pre- and post- nuptial agreements as a tool to maintain family harmony. She has a wealth of experience advising in relation to high level trust and estates disputes.
Catharine is recognized in the Citywealth Leaders List as one of the Top 10 Contentious Trusts lawyers, where she is praised for her "quick mind"and "pragmatic and practical approach". She is ranked in the Chambers UK and HNW guides for both her contentious and non-contentious work. Catharine has written and lectured extensively on her areas of expertise both in the UK and overseas.
Catharine joined Forsters with the rest of the Gowling WLG London Private Client team in May 2017. She practised for a number of years in Jersey, before joining Lawrence Graham (a predecessor firm of Gowling WLG) in 1999, becoming a partner in 2004. Catharine qualified as a solicitor in 1989.
The government recently published long-awaited draft legislation for the reform of the taxation of non-UK domiciled individuals. It includes provisions to bring into the scope of inheritance tax UK residential property held by non-domiciliaries through offshore companies and other entities, together with provisions introducing new deemed domicile rules for long-term UK residents and individuals born in the United Kingdom with a UK domicile of origin.
Publicly accessible registers have come under fire in France and the country's public trust register was ruled unconstitutional in a recent Constitutional Council decision. A similar case for withholding public access to such registers could be made in the United Kingdom, in this case as a breach of the right to respect for private and family life under the Human Rights Act 1998. This could have important implications for those wishing to maintain the privacy of individuals connected to trusts.
Given the likely economic pressures on the United Kingdom following Brexit, the government may take a more welcomed approach to wealthy foreigners than it has done in the recent past. As such, wealthy individuals would be well advised to continue to review UK property holding structures on the basis that promised tax changes will come into effect but, as far as possible, delay implementation of any restructuring until the position is clearer.
The government has proposed that from April 2017, foreign companies and other non-UK vehicles holding UK residential property will be regarded as transparent for inheritance tax purposes, regardless of the domicile status of the underlying beneficial owner or settlor. Individuals and trustees with residential property holdings who are concerned about the changes may wish to consider restructuring options well in advance of the anticipated deadline.
In a departure from recent UK budgets, the chancellor announced relatively few new measures in the 2016 Budget which specifically target wealthy international individuals and their families, or their wealth-holding structures. Nevertheless, certain measures were announced that will be relevant to such individuals, some of which may be beneficial and others less so.
In AH v PH the High Court considered the weight to be given to a pre-nuptial agreement signed in Scandinavia when determining the financial provision to be awarded to the wife on divorce and the requirements for such an agreement to be binding on the parties. The judgment makes clear that if parties wish their agreement to be upheld by the English courts, they must intend it to apply wherever they might be divorced.
The English High Court recently determined that the need for evidence outweighed the importance of comity when requiring beneficiaries to disclose sensitive trust material, despite the Royal Court of Jersey's concern that trustees should be able to apply to the Royal Court in private without fear that information put before the court will later be disclosed.
The Family Division of the High Court has continued in its efforts to disregard a company's separate legal personality in order to bolster the matrimonial pot, following DR v GR (Financial Remedy: Variation of Overseas Trust). The case adds to the increasing hurdles faced by wealthy individuals who wish to safeguard assets from the risks of divorce.
The Supreme Court has confirmed that there is no separate jurisdiction available under Section 24 of the Matrimonial Causes Act to pierce the corporate veil of a company in order to access its assets for the benefit of a spouse in ancillary relief proceedings. The case reinforces the message that wealthy individuals should ensure that they undertake careful wealth structuring, bearing in mind the potential risks of a future divorce.
The Supreme Court has handed down its much-anticipated judgment in the long-running cases of Pitt v Holt and Futter v Futter. The cases related to the rule in Hastings-Bass, which is concerned with trustees (and other fiduciaries) who make decisions without giving proper consideration to relevant matters that they should have taken into account.
Much has been made of London's reputation as the so-called 'divorce capital of the world' as a result of its generous approach to financial claims by less wealthy spouses against their high-earning husbands or wives. This reputation appeared to be in jeopardy following the Court of Appeal decision in Petrodel v Prest, but the Supreme Court's recent decision in the matter has been met with relief by both family and corporate lawyers.
The High Court has issued a clear warning to any husband or wife attempting to hide his or her assets from an ex-spouse, ordering an ex-husband to disclose documentation relating to a trust that his ex-wife alleged had been established by him to defeat her matrimonial claims. The court has clearly continued its line of judgments ignoring the sanctity of trust concepts for the purposes of a pragmatic order.
A recent First-Tier Tax Tribunal decision highlights the importance for trustees of maintaining their independence and impartiality and exercising their discretion in strict accordance with the terms of their trust. The case involved the use by Rangers Football Club of employee benefit trusts to make loans to footballers and other employees.
A recent piece of EU legislation - the European Succession Regulation, or 'Brussels IV' - will have potentially significant implications for anyone with assets in or connections with any of the EU member states to which it applies. Individuals with cross-border interests should be aware of the issues arising under Brussels IV in order to determine how they might affect the succession to their estates.
The wide discretion that the courts have when dividing assets between divorcing parties presents a challenge for wealthy individuals, especially those who have significant inherited property which they wish to protect. A pre-nuptial agreement, although not enforceable as a contract under English law, may provide the best protection in some cases.