Leaders List interview: 60 seconds with Jos Burnett, Slateford
Citywealth speaks to Jos Burnett, associate at Slateford, with an interest in the role the media plays in exposing allegations of wrongdoing.
22 February 2022
Tell Citywealth’s readers about your role.
I am a Partner in Wedlake Bell's Private Client Disputes team. I have a slightly unusual practice in that a significant part of my work covers advising UK-based clients on non-contentious Inheritance Tax planning and trust advisory work. However, this feeds into my contentious practice, advising on Variation of Trusts Act claims, claims against and defending trustees for breach of trust, professional negligence claims which involve tax planning 'gone wrong', and claims under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.
Talk us through one of your most recent client cases.
I am currently acting for the wife of a middle eastern entrepreneur who died last year. The deceased died intestate, domiciled abroad, but owning an extremely valuable property in London which passes under the intestacy rules. The deceased was married prior to his marriage to my client, and there is a dispute between my client and the children from the deceased's first marriage as to whether the marriage to my client was valid. The validity of the marriage will affect whether my client can act as the administrator of the UK estate and if she is entitled to her share of the UK property under the intestacy rules. The case involves complex arguments on domicile and the interaction between the English law relating to marriage and Sharia law.
What are the most important skills and personal qualities for a tax lawyer?
Being able to think in the abstract is a very important skill as tax law often bears no resemblance to the real world! Empathy is probably the most important personal quality in a tax lawyer. Capital taxes tend to be triggered by life events, including death and divorce, and it can be overwhelming for clients to deal with traumatic events and the tax implications. Part of our job is to guide clients through these difficult times.
What is the biggest challenge lawyers in your sector are currently facing?
Covid has had a devastating effect on the services which we rely on to do our job. Whereas it used to take around ten days from applying for a Grant of Probate to the Grant being made, it can now take up to six months. The Government needs to address the serious underfunding of HMRC, the Probate Registry and the Courts system generally as these services have suffered so much in the name of 'efficiencies'.
Are your clients behaving differently in the present era?
Death and taxes have been brought into sharp focus in the past two years and clients are taking both more seriously. When the first lockdown was implemented, there were a huge amount of new Will instructions and many of those have grown into a wider dialogue on tax planning, including setting up trusts and Family Investment Companies. The use of FICs as dynastic planning vehicles has become much more widespread in the present era as asset values have increased dramatically in the past few years.
Best and worst parts of your job.
The best part of my job is working with brilliant colleagues who are leaders in their field. Wedlake Bell's private client team is divided into three subgroups: Disputes, Onshore and Offshore. It sounds cliché, but we genuinely work as a team to solve tricky issues for our clients. The culture of the firm means that there is no real sense of hierarchy and so everyone's opinions count.
A part of my job which never gets easier is making deathbed Wills. However, it is really important work and there is a sense of pride in helping clients fulfil their final wishes.
What is the most valuable piece of advice you have been given?
Be kind. You never know what others are going through.