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Stephen Fisher Crouch

Proprietary Estoppel: son entitled to inherit family farm and mother's farming partnership share (High Court)

Posted by Stephen Fisher Crouch on July 2nd 2018 in All , DISPUTES AND CLAIMS .

The High Court held that, under proprietary estoppel, a son (G) was entitled, on his mother's (Mrs T's) death, to the entire family farm and her farm partnership share.

From leaving school in 1979, G worked on his parents' farms, seven days a week, up to 18 hours a day, with few holidays, for a maximum of £70 a week plus board and lodging. From 1992, G and his parents each held a one-third share under a farm partnership agreement. Following the father's death, his share was attributed to Mrs T. From 2014, family relations deteriorated. G stopped working on the farm due to illness and being effectively excluded by Mrs T and his sister. Mrs T wanted to distribute her partnership share elsewhere.

The High Court held that:

  • While difficult to identify precise occasions and words, both parents had made it very clear that, in return for G's work, G would inherit the farm and his four sisters would share an insurance policy. This was well recognised and accepted within the family.
  • G had relied on his parents' promises, to his detriment, putting up with such low wages and no financial independence, and not pursuing other opportunities.
  • G's equity had crystallised by 2014, when relationships deteriorated, and was unaffected by later events.

The court suggested that Mrs T should have a life interest in her partnership share and a right to reside for life in her bungalow (which formed an integral part of the farm).

This case highlights the importance of succession planning. The parents faced the common quandary of wanting to treat their children equally, yet passing the farm, unbroken, to one child.

It also underlines the importance of professionals taking careful file notes of family meetings. G's case was supported strongly by the contemporaneous documentary evidence.