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Update on proprietary estoppel claim

View profile for Caroline Dowding
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Some of you will recall my blog, written back in March 2018, in respect of the Yeovil farm belonging to Frank and Jane Habberfield.

Frank died in 2014 leaving his estate to his wife, Jane. However, their daughter, Lucy, had worked on the farm since childhood and was not happy with this arrangement. Both her parents had promised her the land on their retirement.

Lucy was eventually awarded £1.17m of the £2.5m estate, to be paid to her immediately. This decision was appealed by her mother and has recently been heard in the Court of Appeal.

In order to pay her daughter the funds awarded by the court, the 82-year-old would be forced to sell her home, which she has occupied for 40 years. Jane Habberfield appealed this decision that this was clearly unfair to her. She also appealed because she and her late husband had offered her a viable dairy farm in 2008, which she rejected, and argued that she had given up her rights to the farm.

Whilst the judges did describe the outcome as ‘hard’ for Jane, they have upheld the decision made in the first instance, and rejected the argument that Lucy had given up her rights. To do this, she would have had to have known that she had such rights, and then have communicated that she was aware that she had given them up. On the facts presented, this had not happened.

I am sure you will all agree that both parties have found themselves in an unenviable position. We fully advocate open and frank discussions with all family members so that rural families can avoid ending up embroiled in costly and lengthy legal disputes. However, if you do find yourself in either Jane or Lucy’s position, our team of agriculture and estates solicitors can help.

I am an agricultural lawyer based at our Colchester office and can be reached on 01206 217394 or caroline.dowding@birkettlong.co.uk.

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