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One day, this will all be yours!

This is a line sometimes uttered light heartedly between relatives, but there are occasions when such comments can contribute to a promise, which the person who made it is prevented from walking away from.

One such example is the recent case of Davies v Davies & Others. Tom Davies was a farmer. The farm had been in the family for generations. He had 5 children – four sons and a daughter. One of the sons, James, had thought of going into the police force when he grew up. However, his father wanted help on the farm and persuaded James to abandon such plans and work on the farm instead with a promise, given in 1974, that if he did so “the place is yours”. James left school and went to agricultural college to learn how to run the farm and he devoted his time to the farm from then, working up to 80 hours per week for as little as 10 pence per hour. In 1984 Tom and his wife moved from the farmhouse to a bungalow built on the farmland and, as he handed the keys of the farmhouse to James, he said “There we are then, it is all yours now. You have done a good job.”  After this time James invested heavily in the farm, ploughing profits of £177,000 back into the business.

Tom died in 1999, but the contents of his Will were suppressed for 13 years at the request of Tom’s widow. Once revealed, James discovered the Will provided for him to remain working on the farm until his 60th birthday and for it then to be divided equally between the 5 children. However the Judge ruled that due to the legal doctrine of proprietary estoppel “it would be unconscionable to deny James the farm”. The promise made to James, the fact that he had acted on that promise by devoting his life to the farm and the increase in the value of the farm brought about by James’ investment in it was such that the law prevented Tom from reneging on his promise.

The doctrine of proprietary estoppel is based on three elements; a representation or assurance, in this case, made to James, reliance on it by him, and detriment to James in consequence of his reasonable reliance.

If you would like to discuss any issue relating to a dispute involving wills, trusts and estates, please call the author, Jacqui Forrest, on 01202 802807 or email us at  office@solomonslaw.co.uk.

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