Where a person has been promised an interest in a property and has upon reliance of that promise incurred expenditure or made sacrifices that he would not otherwise have made, the law provides a remedy in circumstances when it would be unconscionable or inequitable for the person to benefit. Recent cases to come before the courts considering the principal of ‘proprietary estoppel’ (meaning creating a proprietary interest in land in the absence of correct formalities) include farming businesses.
One such high profile decision awarded most of a family farming business to the family’s youngest daughter. In this situation the parents had four children, the father having died in 2014 leaving his entire estate to his wife, the mother of the four. The youngest daughter then brought a claim that promises had been made, denied by her mother, to her that the farm would come to her when both parents retired. The court found in the daughter’s favour. The decision is likely to force her elderly mother to sell the home which she has occupied for 40 years to pay the award to her daughter.
In a similar case, wills were made by the parents leaving the farm property and business between two sons. One of the sons worked long hours on the farm for low pay continuously for over 30 years. This son was in partnership with his father but following a fall out this partnership was dissolved. The son was also given notice to quit the cottage in which he lived. The parents then created new wills in which the son was disinherited.
The court found that there had been an assurance or promise by the parents upon which the son relied, the son having acted to his detriment and been encouraged in his belief without correction.
How we can help
Though many cases that come before the courts relate to farms the principle applies in many situations.
Should you need to make a claim, our experts are highly experienced in this particular area of law and we can also assist if you are defending a proprietary estoppel claim.
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