In the recent case of Howell Evans v David Rees Lloyd, the Court considered whether a gift from an elderly farm labourer to his employer could be set aside as an “unconscionable transaction” or was made under “presumed undue influence”. The case highlights that the Court will look carefully at the personality of the person giving the gift before deciding whether the gift should be returned.
Mr Wynne Evans had spent his entire working life from the age of 14 to his death at 79 working on a farm owned by David and Elizabeth Lloyd. In 1985 he inherited two smallholdings from his eldest brother, which he gifted to the Lloyds in 1996.
His surviving brother took a claim against the Lloyds on the basis that the gift was a result of “undue influence” and was an “unconscionable transaction”.
To raise the presumption of undue influence, one must establish the existence of a relationship between the parties of trust and influence. One then has to establish that the transaction in question could not be readily explained.
Interestingly, the Court did not hold that there was such a relationship in this case, nor that the transaction was unexplainable. This is despite Wynne depending on the Lloyds for his accommodation, food, transport and being unable to live independently without the Lloyds’ support. Instead the Court held that he was independent and was not open to manipulation.
Furthermore, whilst the gifts were unusual, in the circumstances, the court felt they were understandable. This is on the basis that he had a close bond with the Lloyds and wished the smallholdings to go to farmers.
Similarly, the grounds for an unconscionable transaction were not proven, in that whilst Wynn may have been poor and ignorant, the gift was not objectionable or morally reprehensible. The Court noted that Wynne had no interest in wealth or the value of the land. His interest was in the husbandry of the land. His attachment to the land was such that he wanted it to go to the person who would manage the land as he wished. On that basis the gift was allowed to stand.