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Disputes Over Family Farms Can Cause Damaging Rifts

View profile for Richard Howells
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Sadly, disputes over family farms hit the headlines with increasing frequency, and a case that is being dealt with by the High Court at the moment will be particularly troubling for many.

This case sees a farmer being sued by his mother in a bitter court tussle over the £6 million family estate he believes has been promised to him since he was a schoolboy.

Often, disputes such as this come about when a farm owner has died, and the dispute is centred around inheritance, when someone has been under the impression that they were promised the business. So, this case is quite unusual, and it will be interesting to see how The Court resolves it.

The son in the case, claims he gave up a normal childhood to labour on the 540-acre family farm from the age of 10, with both of his parents assuring him that he would inherit it one day. His mother now says no such assurances were made, and she is pursuing more than £2.5 million for her share in the estate. She asserts that her son’s labour as a child was normal for a farm boy. 

The dispute began in 2016 when the mother retired from the farming partnership and asked for payment for her share of the estate. Her son has refused to pay, accusing his mother of reneging on long-held assurances. She and her son’s father split some years earlier, and he now has dementia.

The son has told the court he worked long hours on the farm from the age of 10, early in the morning until the evening, to the detriment of his social life, working there full-time from 1987. And, he says, had an eye removed after a golfing accident the 1990s so he could return to his work on the farm as quickly as possible. 

In response, the mother said her son had become wealthy by choosing to farm with his parents, and any understanding that he would inherit the whole estate was not set in stone. The trial continues, and its outcome will be watched closely by many farming families. As I mentioned, disputes such as this more commonly arise when it comes to inheritance, but these can be safeguarded against, with careful forward planning. If you have an estate that you intend to pass on it is crucial to tie up loose ends in good time, after taking tailored legal advice.

Making a detailed Will, drawn up willingly, and without outside influences, can help to pre-empt or prevent any claims that may be made against an estate. It is also advisable to prepare a statement outlining the reasons why the Will has been prepared in a particular way. This can be used as evidence if a claim is made against the estate, pushing back against your intentions. 

It is important to revise your Will regularly when major life-changes occur. Be aware that there are instances when successful claims have been brought over the validity of a Will, which have resulted in an earlier version of the Will being recognised, so make sure your Will is drafted properly.

JCP’s Lifetime Planning team is always on hand for tailored and professional legal support. Richard is Director and Head of the Lifetime Planning Disputes team who specialise in Litigation involving Wills, Estates, Trusts and Property. Contact Richard on or call 01267 248981.

For further advice, please contact our specialist Lifetime Planning Solicitors in:

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