Brothers Victorious In Farm Inheritance Dispute

Following the death of Anthony (Tony) Sowray, who died intestate, his estranged daughter Claire naturally inherited his estate.

However, problems arose when both Matthew and James Willis spoke of Claire’s father’s promise to them that they would inherit some of the estate. This was due to Matthew having worked on the farm for more than two decades, and James promised the land his home was built on.

During the court case in which the brothers were awarded 50 acres of Gilmoor Farm in Harrogate, plus the associated out buildings which is said to be worth £350,000, after being promised for years they would inherit land from Anthony (Tony) Sowray after his death. Although none of these promises were made in writing.

However, it also became apparent that Mr Sowray began re-building his relationship with his daughter and informed Matthew that he intended to leave the farm house, worth £150,000 to her.

Upon Tony’s death, Claire informed the brothers that Tony had intended for her to have the entire farm, due to the pair making business plans before his death. Both Matthew and James challenged this due to the fact their livelihoods were solely based on the farm, Tony’s promises couldn’t be recinded.

Paula Myers, of Irwin Mitchell, representing both Willis brothers, said the case was ‘slightly unusual’ in that it involved long-term friends instead of family members, as is usual in these types of claims.

She said:

“Tony had told them on many occasions that the land would one day be theirs.

“Many witnesses had to give evidence about the brothers working on the land and about the promises that were made to them over many years.

“It goes to show the outcome of a case must be determined on a case-by-case basis, and that there isn’t one size fits all solution.”

Ms Myers said the case also highlights the importance placed upon witness evidence and how these types of cases are fact specific and require the judge to make findings of fact based on how he perceives the witnesses.

She added:

“The court will clearly give significant weight to a witness’s credibility and how they present at trial,” she added.

“Ensuring your estate planning is in order to prevent unfortunate situations like this has proven vital.

“Had Tony put plans in place to ensure that Matthew, James and Claire were provided for as he intended, this lengthy case and trial could have been avoided.”

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