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Thursday
Jun182015

Farming Daughter Sues Parents for £1.3million

The High Court in Cardiff recently awarded £1.3 million to Eirian Davies to settle her "proprietary estoppel" claim on her parents' farm.  Proprietary estoppel is a legal claim used to assert rights, often to land but also to other assets, and usually in the absence of proper documentary evidence.

Miss Davies worked for the farming business for little or no payment for many years, on the understanding that the whole enterprise would eventually pass to her.  She has two sisters, but both had moved away to follow other careers.

By 2008, Miss Davies' parents, Tegwyn and Mary Davies, had agreed to hand over almost half of the business to her.  Documents were prepared to implement the agreement but were never signed.  Instead, the parents agreed to prepare Wills leaving Miss Davies the land and buildings, and a share in the company.

Unfortunately a family dispute arose.  In 2009 Mr and Mrs Davies decided to amend their Wills putting the farm into a trust with the rest of their estate split between the three daughters equally.  Family relations continued to deteriorate, leading to Miss Davies' departure from the business in 2012.  She then sued.

In 2013 the High Court upheld Miss Davies’ claim.  Her parents appealed, but the Court of Appeal rejected their appeal, except on one relatively minor point.  The court directed that Miss Davies' recompense could be settled either by granting her a share in the farm or by a cash payment.

The Court of Appeal then invited the parties to negotiate a settlement as to the amount of Miss Davies' interest without further litigation, but this proved impossible.  Miss Davies therefore returned to the Cardiff High Court, which, it is reported, granted her £1.3 million in compensation – around one-third of the business.  The amount was described as sufficient for her to start a new farming business of her own.

Proprietary estoppel is an unusual but potentially very useful basis for making a claim.  It is however a difficult and expensive action to mount. 

Farming families are particular vulnerable to such claims because of the huge increase in land values.  The Davies’ case has so far spent five years going through the court systems and involved thousands of pounds of legal fees.  Unfortunately family disputes do occur.  Properly drafted documents setting out the intentions and wishes of the parties at the outset could well have prevented this.

For further information or advice please contact Wayne Perrin at Greene & Greene on 01284 717454 or email wayneperrin@greene-greene.com.  For more details about Greene & Greene solicitors please visit www.greene-greene.com and follow us on Twitter @greenegreenelaw.

This article was originally published in the East Anglian Daily Times Rural Review Feature on 28 March 2015.

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