“One day all this will be yours”
Farming is very often a family profession. Farms pass through generations. Parents, siblings and wider family work the land together. There is often an unspoken assumption that those who contribute will inherit the land and continue the legacy.
Sometimes the promise is voiced. “One day all this will be yours.”
And that promise carries some weight. The legal concept of proprietary estoppel is a rule of law that when person A, by act or words, gives person B reason to believe a certain set of facts upon which person B takes action, person A cannot later, to his (or her) benefit, deny those facts or say that his (or her) earlier act was improper.
So if a farmer says to his laborer, one day all this will be yours – he has given his laborer reason to believe he is going to inherit the farm.
More and more of these cases are making the headlines. Where there is no will or an incomplete or contested will, these cases can be proven. A claimant must be able to show that the promise was assured and that they then made decisions and actions based on this assurance. They must also show the consequence of the promise not being delivered.
In the UK this year, a Court awarded the youngest daughter of a Somerset farmer almost half of the value of the family farm in compensation for promises made by her late father. She had devoted her working life to the farm because her father had assured her she would take over when he retired. Lucy worked on the farm for over 30 years, before she left following an argument with one of her sisters. On her father’s death, her mother inherited everything and she defended her husband’s will against Lucy’s claim. The Court agreed that she had an assurance from her father that influenced her decision to remain at the farm and she received a large cash payout to prevent the break up of the farm.
If someone is promising you the earth when they die, you might want them to commit that in writing……