Son wins dispute with parents over share of family farm

A man has won a dispute with his parents over assurances made to him that he would inherit a share of the family farm after working for 30 years on low pay.

David and Josephine Guest had made wills in 1981 under which their son Andrew and his brother would inherit the farm property and dairy farming business equally.

On leaving school in 1982, Andrew worked for at least 60 hours per week at the farm for a low wage.

In 1989, he moved into a cottage on the farm. In 2012 his brother, who had previously indicated little interest in farming, entered into partnership with the parents to run the business.

In 2014, the relationship between the parties broke down. The parents made new wills, excluding any entitlement for Andrew beyond his right to occupy the cottage.

In 2015, they offered him terms for carrying on farming under a farming business tenancy (FBT), but he felt unable to accept on the grounds of affordability.

In 2017, they gave him notice to quit the cottage. He brought a claim based on proprietary estoppel; the legal principle that protects the interests of a person given a clear assurance that they will acquire a right over property.

The judge found that the parents had made an assurance over many years that Andrew would inherit a substantial share of the farm, and that he had reasonably relied on that assurance, working hard on the farm for many years for little financial reward.

This meant he had established a right to a share of the farm based on his work and the assurances given by his parents in the past.

The breakdown in family relations meant that a clean break had to be achieved by means of a lump sum payment to Andrew consisting of 50% of the market value of the dairy farming business and 40% of the value of the farm buildings.

The Court of Appeal upheld that decision.

Please contact us if you would like more information about the issues raised in this article or any aspect of wills and probate.

to chat