Category: Updates

Be careful what you promise!

27th August 2020

Making a promise to someone sounds simple doesn’t it… it is, unless it relates to property.

There are more and more cases going to Court in regard to reliance upon a promise. A very simple example, where someone is promised to be left a property – lets use a farm as an example – then relies on this promise to their detriment. Such a person may well be entitled to inherit ahead of more obvious beneficiaries.

In a recent case (2020), the Court found that the fact a promise, which was verbal only, was no bar to the property being passed to the Claimant and not his daughter.

The case concerned a small farm near Harrogate, owned by the deceased. The neighbours argued that the deceased had promised to leave the land to them. The daughter in defence of her position argued that her father (who did not have a Will) had never wished the property to go to anyone other than her and had never mentioned any other intention. The Courts decision was that the Claimants had acquired a right to the property. Such a promise is called Proprietary Estoppel.

Unlike a contract or a gift, which depend on consent, proprietary estoppel arises:

  • when a person has been given a clear assurance, and
  • it was reasonable for them to rely on this assurance, and
  • they have acted to their detriment.

We are aware, throughout our work, of sons, daughters, staff and neighbours being promised farms or land by the farmer, but it must be remembered that if any of the three determinants are evident, a property not passed to the recipient of the promise, means you have opened up the possibility of a claim, which could go against your wishes. Remember, other potential claimants may not be aware of such promises and everything turns on third party evidence as by definition, without a Will, the final wishes of the deceased will never be known.