16 December 2016 by

A promise made should be a promise kept

A recent legal case confirms the childhood lesson that “a promise made should be a promise kept”.

Stephen Moore brought a claim against his father Roger Moore and his mother Pamela Moore, claiming that they had breached promises first made to him when he was a child that he would one day own the family farming business.

Relying on that promise Stephen worked tirelessly on the farm for very little income and attended agricultural college.  In 2007 his mother and father prepared wills in which they honoured the promise by confirming that the farm and the business would pass to Stephen upon their deaths. The next year his father developed early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

From 2008 onwards Roger and Pamela made several changes to their Wills, firstly removing Stephen as an executor, then reducing his share of their estate before finally removing him entirely.

In 2012 Stephen brought a claim against his parents arguing:

  1. promise was made;
  2. He had relied on the promise;
  3. He did so to his detriment; and
  4. The promise was broken

These conditions together make up a legal concept called “proprietary estoppel”.  If these conditions can be established then the court could order that the promise should be kept and Stephen should inherit the farm and the business.

The Judge having considered all the evidence decided that all the conditions were present. He was satisfied that it had been proved that Stephen relied on the promise to his detriment based on the following facts:

  1. Stephen decided to work and live on the farm even though he would have been paid much more if employed elsewhere;
  2. If he was employed elsewhere, he and his family would have enjoyed a much better standard of living accommodation;
  3. From 1991 until the end of 2011 he did not have expensive holidays;
  4. He did not have an expensive lifestyle;
  5. He spent his money on good farm equipment, with the exception of a Nissan motor car;
  6. He did not have a company car until 1999 (although one was promised in 1991);
  7. He worked long hours without additional payment;
  8. The purchased cars belonged to the farm partnership;
  9. His wife also worked on the farm;
  10. His children did not attend a private school, unlike his sister’s (Julie), whose school fees have been paid from the partnership, although she was not been really involved with the work on the farm and the business

The judge therefore ordered that Stephen should inherit the farm in accordance with the promise. He also ordered that the partnership be dissolved due to Roger’s dementia.  This meant that Stephen was to start to run the business immediately. His parents however, would be allowed to continue to live in the farmhouse and receive £200 a week from the business income.

The case makes it clear that in certain circumstances where childhood promises are made and then broken the court will not be afraid to intervene and ensure that the promise is kept.

For other examples of proprietary estoppel, please follow the link.

You can contact one of our solicitors in the Disputed Wills and Trusts team here.

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