Promises are often made and then broken. In cases relating to houses and land a claim can be made in enable the court to step in to enforce the broken promise to prevent a party from unconscionably asserting legal rights over that land or property, this claim is known as “ Proprietary Estoppel”.
This argument has been used in a recent case, Guest v Guest and another (2019) which has now been heard at the Court of Appeal after the parents appealed the decision when the Court found in their sons (A) favour to which the Court of Appeal have upheld the decision.
The facts of the case were that the parents made a Will in 1981 leaving the farm property and business to A and his brother (R) to which A was not aware of the details of his father’s Will.
A worked long hours for low pay for a good number of years. R worked at the farm from 2015.
In 2012 the parents sent up two farming partnerships, one with A running the family farm and another with R running the neighbourhood farm.
In 2014 A and his father fell out and their partnership was dissolved, after which A parents made new Wills disinheriting A, except for a right to occupy the farm cottage. A couple of years later, the parents gave A notice to quit the cottage and the father made a further Will disinheriting A completely.
The court found that until 2014 the father had consistently led A to believe that he would succeed to the farm and that his assurances were “clear enough” and over many years. A had reasonably relied on this, to his significant detriment.
The result was that the court awarded A with a lump sum of one half of the business and a 40% share of the farm property. This meant the parents would have to sell the farm to pay A because there was no prospect of them being able to continue working or living together.
In order to reduce the risk of a Proprietary Estoppel claim you should not make promises or create expectations in circumstances where you do not intend or cannot fulfil your side of the promise. In order to prevent a claim in relation to land it is important for owners to consider their succession planning.
Unfortunately, family fall outs do occur and we are able to advise on steps you can take to protect your assets to minimise any claim and to ensure your wishes are fulfilled.
In view of the outcome of this case it is as important as ever to make or review your Wills.
If you have any queries regarding succession planning and drafting a Will then please contact our dedicated Wills, Probate and Planning for the Future helpline on 0161 694 4147 for assistance.