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Proprietary Estoppel – What is it?

There have been a number of cases this year regarding proprietary estoppel – so what is it?

Proprietary estoppel provides a means by which a person may claim a right to property or land despite being legally documented.  For example, if someone has promised that you inherit their property or land on death, but you subsequently find out that it is not reflected in their Will.

To claim proprietary estoppel you will have to demonstrate that a promise was made to you, you relied upon that promise and acted to your detriment.

As the cases below reveal, this seems to happen quite frequently with farmland, whereby someone has promised that the farm would be theirs when they die (promise); you continued to work on the farm for little pay or reward (reliance) and never pursued another career or better paid employment as you believed you would benefit in the long run (detriment).

The most recent talked about case is Moore v Moore [2018] EWCA (Civ 2669), whereby the court ruled that the farming business should be given to the son Stephen Moore.  The farming business became a partnership between the son and father, Roger Moore.  The relationship broke down as the father started to suffer from dementia and the son claimed he was promised to inherit the farming business.

Stephen was successful in claiming the farming business and the court ruled that his father with wife was able to continue living there and paid £200 per week for living expenses.  Father, unfortunately had to go into a care home and this left father with wife in a precarious position.  They were without any capital and unable to decide for themselves where to live.

The case was referred back to court and although the son was still entitled to the farming business, the original ruling had not taken into consideration the needs of the father and his wife and therefore awarded a lump sum payment.

Other interesting cases include:

Habberfield v Habberfield [2018] EWHC 317 (Ch) – whereby the High Court considered a daughter’s claim for proprietary estoppel, relying on her parents’ promises that she would inherit the family’s dairy farm.

Gee v Gee and another [2018] EWHC 1393 (Ch) – the High Court considered whether the son had an interest in the family farm.

Thompson v Thompson [2018] EWHC 1338 (Ch) – the High Court considered whether a son was entitled to the family farm and his mother’s in the family farming partnership, on her death.

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