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Farmer Victorious in Dispute with His Son over £2.5 Million Cottage

I have been instructed on several cases similar to the below and the outcome depends on several factors. Firstly, the court is always reluctant to change the wishes of the deceased. If a will is in place and has been properly executed, the court would need a very convincing argument as to why they should order any changes.

In the case below, had the son not been paid for his work, I believe the outcome may well have been different. The facts here though are that the son could provide no tangible evidence to the court that his father agreed to gift the property to him and even if he did have this evidence, a promise is not always enough to convince the court.

The right of individuals to do as they wish with their own assets is jealously guarded by the law. In one telling case that proved the point, the High Court rejected claims that a wealthy farmer had given a £2.5 million cottage to his eldest son and daughter-in-law or that he had promised to leave it to them in his will.

The son argued that the cottage was his just reward for working hard and for low pay in the family farming and property development business for 20 years. He and his wife had lived in the property throughout that time, bringing up their children there, and claimed to have spent about £700,000 on improving it.

In rejecting the couple’s claim, however, the Court found no evidence that the farmer had given the cottage to them when they became engaged to be married. He had also given them no binding assurance that they would inherit the property. The son had been paid for his work in the family business, from which he stood to benefit in the long term, and had no moral entitlement to the cottage.

The son had knowingly taken a risk when he invested in improving a property that did not belong to him and had never had more than an unenforceable expectation that he would inherit the property on his father’s death. The farmer had not acted unconscionably and the Court noted that the possibility remained open that he would in due course choose to leave the cottage to his son and daughter-in-law.

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MLA 2017 18 Shortlisted 2