The High Court has ordered that the daughter of a Yeovil farmer should receive £1,17m from her father’s estate worth approximately £2.5m.
The content of this article is for general information only.Frank and Jane had a son and three daughters. The youngest, Lucy, had worked on the 220-acre Woodrow Farm, at Mudford near Yeovil, which belonged to Frank and Jane since she left school in 1983. When Frank died the Farm passed in its entirety to Jane.
Lucy claimed that Frank had repeatedly assured her that she would take the farm over when he retired, and in reliance of these assurances, she had stayed working on the farm for significantly less than she would have been paid had she worked elsewhere. She therefore brought an action in proprietary estoppel claiming the whole property.
Jane opposed her claim, on the ground that neither she nor Frank had ever made any promises to Lucy. Jane went on to argue that, even if Frank, had made such a promise behind her back, it could not be binding on her. She also denied that any such promises could amount to proprietary estoppel because Lucy had exaggerated her work on the farm and had received significant benefits in return for her efforts.
When considering the evidence the Judge placed a lot of weight on a letter written in 2008, from a surveyor employed by Frank and Jane Habberfield, recording a proposal to be put to Lucy for a new limited partnership to run the business. Crucially, the letter stated that it was the intention that Lucy should end up being the owner of the overall farm after her parents' deaths, with some of the property to go to her brother and sisters.
By reference to this letter and other evidence, the Judge concluded that Lucy had proved her claim, to the extent that she was entitled to a significant part of the farm, not all of it. The Judge duly ordered Jane to pay Lucy the cash equivalent of her interest in the farm, i.e, £.17m.
As a fallback, Lucy had also brought a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. Her success with the proprietary estoppel claim meant that this was not needed.