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Ask The Legal Expert: Preventing Inheritance Claims

View profile for Richard Howells
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JCP Director and Head of Lifetime Planning Disputes, Richard Howells, shares advice on preventing inheritance claims after death.

“My son has worked with me on the family farm for 20 years and I have told him in the past that he would inherit the business. However, we have had a serious argument, which is irreparable. If I now leave the farm to his sister could my son contest the will upon my death?”

Disputes over inheritance are upsetting for those concerned and it is wise, if you have an estate to pass on, to tie up any loose ends in good time.

It is possible your son could make a claim on the family business. A recent case involving a farming family has brought the issue of proprietary estoppel to the fore.

The case of Moore v Moore (Moore v Moore [2016] EWHC 2202 (Ch) saw a son make a claim on a farm that he had worked since childhood.

He had been led to believe he would inherit the farm, so he had dedicated his working life to nurturing the place.

Due to a family dispute, it was decided the farm would be left to a daughter instead.

The son brought a claim for proprietary estoppel – a successful proprietary estoppel claim can modify existing rights over property and can give rise to new rights.

Proprietary estoppel transfers rights if:

  • Someone is given a clear assurance that they will acquire a right over property
  • They then reasonably rely on this assurance, and,
  • They act substantially to their own detriment on the strength of the assurance
  • It would be unconscionable to go back on the assurance

In the Moore v Moore case the son was awarded an interest in his father’s share of the farming business, since these elements of assurance, reliance, and detriment and unconscionability, were all found by the Court to be met; The father had made promises that the son would inherit; the son relied on these promises by working the farm long term; He had suffered detriment in relying on the promise; It would be unconscionable for the father to renege.

This case highlights the importance of farming families including family members in succession planning, in good time and with sound legal advice.

For specialist legal advice, call Richard on: 01267 266 946 or email: Richard.howells@jcpsolicitors.co.uk

*The question posed in this blog is based on a hypothetical situation.

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