Proprietary Estoppel and the reluctant dairy farmer.

We have posted about proprietary estoppel claims being brought by relatives who believe they have acted in their detriment based on a promise that they will inherit a substantial portion of an estate. Historically such a claim has been brought following the death of the person that made the promise. In an English case currently before the courts, a Son has brought the claim against his parents during their lifetime as there is an indication that the promise that his parents made to him has not been honoured in their Wills.

Proprietary estoppel is a legal claim which may transfer rights if,

  • someone is given a clear assurance that they will acquire a right over property,
  • they reasonably rely on the assurance, and,
  • they act substantially to their detriment on the strength of the assurance, and
  • it would be unconscionable to go back on the assurance

If the court believes these elements are present the usual remedy will be that the property will be transferred to the claimant.

In England to establish an equitable estoppel, it is necessary for the plaintiff to prove that

1) they assumed that a particular legal relationship would exist between them and that the defendant would not be free to withdraw from that expected legal relationship;

2) the defendant has induced them to adopt that assumption or expectation;

3) they acted or abstained from acting in reliance on the assumption or expectation;

4) the defendant knew or intended them to do so;

5) their action or inaction will occasion detriment if the assumption or expectation is not fulfilled; and

6) the defendant has failed to act to avoid that detriment whether by fulfilling the assumption or expectation or otherwise

Recently Clive Shaw a 55-year-old from Lincolnshire in the United Kingdom has brought a proprietary estoppel claim against his parents Gillian and Walt after discovering that he had been left out of their Wills.

Clive claims that he had worked on his parents’ dairy farm from the age of seven forgoing other career opportunities based on his parents’ promise that he would inherit the family farm and business.

Following a falling out Gillian and Walt had drafted Wills that left the bulk of the estate to Clive’s sister Cheryl and nothing to him.

Gillian and Walt believe that Clive has not worked hard enough to deserve the family farm, was incapable of managing the farming business; and hated cows.

Cheryl gave evidence that Clive had frequently told family members he hated cows often referring to them as “stinking, horrible, rotten creatures”.

In his defence, Clive submitted to the Court that he said he “didn’t like” cows, not that he “hated them”.

Clive believes that the basis of the dispute is that Gillian often found fault with his girlfriends and she believes his current girlfriend is a ‘gold digger’.

Clive no longer works in the family business. He now operates a Truck hire business from the farm and lives in an onsite caravan.

The Court reserved its’ decision to a date yet to be determined.







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