Success For Farmer’s Wife In Appeal Against Son
The England and Wales Court of Appeal (EWCA) has referred a proprietary estoppel case back to the High Court requesting that the judge change his ruling to award the appellant a lump sum of between £1million and £2million, instead of the £200 per week initially granted to her.
The case arose following a dispute between father and son, Roger and Stephen Moore in respect of the running of their family farm.
Stephen Moore had worked on the farm all of his life, with his father Roger promising on numerous occasions that one day he would inherit it. Stephen became an equity partner in 2003 with a share of 49%.
In 2008, Roger began to develop dementia and Stephen took steps to reduce his father’s workload on the farm. Roger objected to this, and his wife, Stephen’s mother Pamela, took Roger’s side. She was also concerned that leaving the farm to Stephen would exclude her and Roger’s daughter Julie from inheriting anything.
In 2012 Roger sought to dissolve the partnership. Stephen took the matter to the England and Wales High Court, claiming that he had been promised the whole farm, which he had made his life’s work.
Since leaving school, he had worked 40-50 hours per week on the farm and up to 100 hours per week during harvest time. He had relied on his father’s promise to his own detriment by not pursuing any other career and not attempting to further his farming career away from the family farm.
The judge agreed and transferred the farm to Stephen, allowing Pamela to live in the farmhouse for life, with an allowance of £200 per week to live on. Stephen was also required to pay reasonable health care costs for both of his parents; by this time his father had moved into a care home.
Pamela appealed to the EWCA, who found that the means by which the High Court judge had sought to satisfy Stephen’s justified claim for equity was unfair.
They noted that the promise was that Stephen would inherit the farm on the death of the survivor of Roger and Pamela. It was inequitable to Roger and Pamela to fail to make adequate provision for them during the remainder of their lives.
The case was referred back to the original judge with guidance that he make full and generous protection for Roger and Pamela, taking into account what Roger would have wished for Pamela to receive on his death.
The EWCA found that a clean break would be in Pamela’s best interests and ordered that Stephen make a payment to her of between £1m and £2m, the exact sum to be decided by the original High Court judge.
How devastating can Will disputes be to families? How can Will content help to avoid similar issues?