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The £8 million family farm dispute based on a promise!

Mr JR Gee (JR), now in his eighties, owned considerable land and a farming business valued at £8 million.  His son Mr JM Gee (JM) had worked on the farm since 1970. JR had a second son called Robert.

In November 2014, JR transferred all of his property and land holdings to Robert, including his shareholding in the farming company. Since then, Robert has been managing the farm. Robert had spent one year studying for a diploma in agriculture, but until 2012 his main occupation was as a builder and property developer.

In October 2016 JM issued court proceedings. He said that over a period of 30 years, while he was working on the farm his father had assured him that he would inherit the lion’s share of the farm and that he relied upon those assurances to his detriment. The transfer of the farm to Robert was therefore unfair and he asked the court to intervene by bringing what is called a proprietary estoppel claim.

To succeed in a proprietary estoppel claim, the person bringing the claim must prove:

  1. That there was a promise, this can be verbal or written.
  2. They did something in reliance on that promise.  For instance, giving up a job, or working for less money than they might have earned elsewhere.
  3. That what they did can be regarded as having incurred a burden or a detriment.

Having listened to the evidence the judge agreed with JM that, over a period of 20 years, JR had made it clear to JM that he would succeed his father as the farmer and owner, albeit that some provision would be made for Robert and their other sibling.

These assurances were made to encourage JM to remain farming the land.

In order to succeed in a claim for proprietary estoppel JM would have to show a form of detriment.

The judge accepted JM’s contention that he suffered two kinds of detriment. Firstly, he worked long hours without adequate compensation.

Secondly, he gave up the chance to better himself and work elsewhere.

The Remedy

The judge determined, unpicking the transfer to Robert, that JM should instead receive 52% of the shares of the company and 46% of the land.

If you have any questions regarding this area of the law please contact our Disputed Wills and Trusts team.

We are always happy to talk on an initial no obligation and informal basis.

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