A farmer’s son who worked in the family farming business his whole life without receiving a proper wage was promised that he would inherit the farm when his father died. However, the relationship between the two men soured in 2006, after the father had remarried. When his father died, the son discovered that he had been disinherited, his father’s estate having been left to his sister and brothers.
He made a claim against his father’s estate arguing that under the principles of ‘promissory estoppel’ the farm should be his. Promissory estoppel is the doctrine that where a person reasonably relies on the representations of another person to their own detriment, they are entitled to rely on the representations made.
The Court of Appeal rejected his claim that he should own the farm as of right, refusing to accept that promises made in conversations that took place more than 20 years previously could be binding. However, the son may still be able to claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, which allows dependants of a deceased person who are not adequately provided for in the will to make a claim against the estate.
The courts normally take a great deal of persuading that an unrecorded promise should overcome written intentions expressed in a will. It is always safer not to leave such things to chance and to make sure that any agreements are properly recorded and witnessed.
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