Son inherits farm as promised despite being left out of father's will

In a landmark decision, the High Court has granted Michael Spencer the right to inherit the family farm, challenging his exclusion from his father's will. This case highlights the legal recourse available when familial assurances clash with testamentary dispositions, ultimately securing Mr Spencer’s inheritance under the doctrine of proprietary estoppel.

A man has won his claim that he should be allowed to inherit the family farm despite being left out of his father’s will. Michael Spencer said he was entitled to inherit the land because his father John had promised it to him. The case was heard before the High Court, which heard evidence that the father had assured Michael he would inherit the land in return for working on it and helping to make it successful. John and Michael then farmed the land in partnership starting in 1983, when Michael was 19. However, John made a will in 2018, leaving most of the land in a trust which would pass to the grandchildren.

When John died, Michael discovered he would not inherit as expected so brought a claim of proprietary estoppel. This is a legal remedy for when a landowner promises a property will be transferred to someone else but then reneges on that promise. To claim proprietary estoppel, it's necessary to show that a clear promise has been made and that your reliance on that promise caused you to suffer detriment.

Michael said he had relied on that assurance and given up other opportunities because of it. The High Court ruled in his favour. It held that based on the evidence, not only had assurances been made, but that Michael had relied on them to his detriment. The court ordered that the father's farmland should be transferred to Michael under the doctrine of proprietary estoppel despite it not being left to him in the will.

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