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Don't let Alzheimer's disinherit your family

View profile for Caroline Dowding
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There was a very interesting article in the Telegraph last week where a mother tried to take advantage of her husbands Alzheimer’s to disinherit her son from the family farm, which totalled in the region of £10 Million.

The reason why this is important to the rural sector is that the son had worked on the family farm since childhood on the 650-acre farm, and had lived a very frugal lifestyle, lived in a bungalow on the estate and earnt less than £300 per week despite being a partner in the business and working long hours. However, the son did not mind doing this under the promise (known as proprietory estoppel) from his father that “all of this will be yours one day”. The son relied on this promise from his father, and worked tirelessly on the farm as a result for very little reward, and had thrown himself wholeheartedly into working on the farm. 

Sadly, in 2009, his father started to suffer from serious memory loss as a result of a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. Despite this, in 2012, he was encouraged by his wife to amend his will, which disinherited the son from the farm. Ultimately, she wanted her daughter, who had no involvement in the farm, to inherit the estate. Given his mental state at this time, the judge determined that his father would not have had the capacity to make such changes, and that he was “playing very little part in events” by this time. 

As a result, the son was given the entire farm, including the farmhouse as the judge ruled that he was entitled to rely on the assurance given to him by his father that the farm would become his. As a result of this promise, he devoted his entire working life to the farm and the business, and therefore this result is only just and equitable under the circumstances. 

Despite the fact that father is still alive, it was ruled that the farming partnership between father and son should be dissolved because of father’s ill health and his inability to make decisions in relation to the business. It was also ordered that the shares in the farm should be transferred to son, although parents could continue to get an income and could remain living in the farmhouse for as long as they needed to.

This case is unusual in that it has been brought before the father has died, but also highlights the weight given by the courts of promises made to individuals when that individual has relied on that promise to their detriment. This can be prevalent when some children work on the farm, and other’s do not.

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