High court awards £1m in damages for dispute over farm inheritance case

In a decision made by the High Court over the inheritance of a family farm, a woman has been awarded over £1 million in damages.

After being advised over her inheritance by Stephens Scown LLP, Lucy Habberfield was awarded damages in recognition of the work she’d done on the farm over a period of three decades.

Starting at the farm just after she left school, Lucy initially began working with her father to reintroduce a dairy her to the Woodrow Farm, later going on to run the dairy business.

She worked on the farm for over 30 years, where she was joined by her partner, who she later had four children with. Together, the couple continued to run the business whilst raising their family.

Though Ms Habberfield claimed that her father assured her that she would take over the farm, upon his death in 2014, these promises were not carried out.

This prompted her to bring a claim, which her mother opposed.

Ms Habberfield told the High Court: “I worked hard on the farm for so long and following my fathers drop in health, my siblings, with the help of my mother, made it impossible to stay on the farm. To start with I didn’t know I could do anything about the situation – I think a lot of people in farming are not aware of this law and how it could help them. Once I realised there was something I could do, I knew I had to try for my children’s sake and to give them a secure future.”

Also commenting on the case was Phil Gregory. The partner in the inheritance and trusts disputes team and Stephens Scown stated: “For 30 years Lucy worked seven days a week for low wages on the family farm on the understanding that she would one day take over the farm from her father.

“After hearing evidence from more than 20 witnesses, many of whom were local farmers and farm workers, the judge ruled in favour of Lucy. He found that she had kept her side of the bargain. To compensate her for the detriment that she had suffered over the years she was awarded a sum equivalent to the value of the Woodrow farmland and farm buildings.”

In regard to the issue at the centre of the claim, he went on to state: “The area of law involved is called Proprietary Estoppel. It is a developing area, with a series of high profile cases, particularly relating to farms, over recent years. We are delighted for our client that the court found in her favour and awarded her a fair amount for the work she put into the farm over a very long period of time.”

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