Proprietary estoppel is in the news again, with yet another family farm dispute ending up in court after a son was denied his inheritance. Proprietary estoppel solicitors Slee Blackwell review the case and summarise the legal principles involved with such claims.
The basic principle of proprietary estoppel
The principle of proprietary estoppel, in very simple terms, is that when someone makes you a promise and you act on that promise, to your detriment, then the maker of the promise cannot renege on it.
We see it so frequently in family farm disputes because it is customary for children to work on the family farm, often putting in long hours for little return, on the basis that they will ultimately inherit the farm. In most instances this arrangement works well, but occasionally a family disagreement unrails it and this can set family members at loggerheads. The position is often complicated by the fact that these agreements are oral and there is nothing, or very little, in writing.
The legal requirements for proprietary estoppel
In order to bring a claim on the basis of proprietary estoppel a claimant must be able to satisfy the legal requirements. The essential features of a proprietary estoppel claim are:
(i) a promise or representation that has been made,
(ii) the recipient has relied upon the representation or promise, to their detriment, and
(iii) it would be unfair and unconscionable not to uphold or enforce the promise.
Gee -v- Gee: An example of proprietary estoppel in practice
In this case, the dispute centred around a farm in Oxfordshire worth around £8 million. It had been in the ownership of the Gee family since the early 1920’s and was currently held by John Gee senior, the father.
John Gee junior, his son, worked on the farm for his father for a period of around 40 years. He claimed that his father had repeatedly assured him that he would inherit the lion’s share of the farm. In reliance on that promise, John junior had devoted his working life to the farm, spending long hours working there for low wages.
However, following a falling out in 2014 between John senior and John junior, the farm was transferred to Robert Gee, another of John senior’s children.
Read the full article here.