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Thirty years' work on a farm with nothing in return?

View profile for Caroline Dowding
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The recent case of Guest v Guest provides another gentle reminder of the importance of having your rural business’ affairs in order.

For over thirty years, the claimant worked on the defendants’, his parents’, farm. He started in 1982 and is reported to have spent 60 to 80 hours working each week, receiving less than the minimum agricultural wage in return. From 1989, he lived in the cottage on the estate. His parents’ wills of 1981 left the farm and business in equal shares to the claimant and his younger brother.

The claimant and defendants then fell out and, by 2014, the defendants drafted new wills whereby they disinherited the claimant and left the farm to the claimant’s brother and sister. The claimant stopped working at the farm in 2015 and was removed from the cottage in 2018.

The claimant was aggrieved that he had worked on the farm for over thirty years with little return. He therefore sought a declaration from the court that he was entitled to the entire beneficial interest in the farm and farming business, as well as an entitlement to reside in the cottage. The parents disagreed.

The court found that the claimant was entitled to a lump sum payment, equivalent to half of the market value of the farming business, and 40% of the market value of the land and buildings on the farm.

There are perhaps no new hard and fast rules to be taken from this case, however, lessons can be learned. Little was planned and formalised during the thirty year period to reflect the assurances made by the defendants about the farming business. Running a farm is busy work and taking the time out to ensure its present and future are in order can be part and parcel of that. Planning ahead can flush out potential future issues, whilst being more cost-effective than litigation in the long run.

If you would like to discuss issues of this nature, or if you would like to start considering planning for the future, call one of our specialist agriculture lawyers. I am based in our Colchester office and can be contacted on 01206 217618 or