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Man Sues Parents For Right to Inherit Farm

Man Sues Parents For Right to Inherit Farm

A Lincolnshire man who “doesn’t like cows” is set to challenge his parents in the High Court to inherit their £1m dairy farm business.

Clive Shaw’s 78 year old parents, Walt and Gillian, wrote their son out of their wills due to concerns that his new girlfriend was a “gold-digger.”

Mr. Shaw however contests that it is too late for his parents to change their minds on the matter, as he has already spent most of his life working on the farm in return for “unconditional assurances” that it would one day be his.

Now 55 years old, Shaw has been providing help on the farm since the age of seven.

His parents say that their son “never worked on the farm to the extent he now claims” and dispute that promises were made in return for the work, stating that they have already “more than compensated Clive over the decades for the ad hoc work he did.”

They added that Clive Shaw would “keep out of the way when his father was working with the herd” and “frequently said to members of [his] family that [he] hated the cows.”

Spike in proprietary estoppel claims

Lawyers for Clive Shaw’s parents underlined in court that his right to inherit his parent’s farm was removed when they amended their wills to remove his stake in the land.

Lawyers for Mr. Shaw however focused on what they characterised as the unethical nature of upholding the will amendment, since the farmer’s son had already spent his life working on the farm on the basis of a mutual understanding that he would inherit it.

“He cannot go back and have his life again. He should therefore be entitled to the farm and the farmhouse,” argued Mr. Shaw’s representative.

Based on precedent case law, some safeguards including constructive trusts and the doctrine of proprietary estoppel have been established for property rights, giving the courts discretion to overlook strict legal rights where the circumstances mean that it would be wrong to enforce this technical entitlement.

Under the doctrine of proprietary estoppel, an individual may be able to claim a right in land where they have been given assurances of the right, and relied on this assurance to their detriment, only for this promise to then be unconscionably broken.

Although very rarely successful and so seldom used in a claim, there has been a marked spike in proprietary estoppel claims reaching the High Court this year, with seven cases heard in the first six months of 2018 alone.

Contesting will provisions

Mr. Shaw’s claim for the courts to enforce his immediate right to inherit the farm in conjunction with his parents’ right to live on the property rent-free for the rest of their lives could therefore be successful depending on the evidence.

In court, Shaw referred to repeated verbal assurances, his assumptions based on the family tradition of passing down the farm, and the fact that he has remained financially reliant on his parents throughout adulthood under the arrangement.

Despite the legal dispute, the former dairy farmer still lives on the farm with his parents and runs an American show-truck trade on their land, having stopped working full-time on the farm.

Under statute, spouses, civil partners, and dependent children are all legally eligible to contest the provisions of a deceased family member’s will in line with the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975 if they have not been reasonably provided for.

Other parties eligible to make a claim for reasonable provision include former spouses whose relationship with the deceased terminated less than a year before their death and step-children.

For successful claims, the court may order a lump sum, specific asset or for regular periodical payments to be made to the claimant from the testator’s estate.

IBB’s wills and probate expert, Jacqueline Almond, commented:

“In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of challenges to wills, although usually after death. Challenges on the basis of a promise that in return for working for very little, the individual would inherit an asset are also on the increase and usually involve farms. This case is unusual as the parents are still alive”.

For advice on issues relating to wills, trusts, probate and tax and estate planning, contact an expert wills and probate solicitor by calling us on 03456 381381 or email us at estatemanagement@ibblaw.co.uk.