Farmer Acts to Protect Family Promise
Farming families appear regularly in the courts these days, as more and more cases arise that feature undocumented promises that have been made (or are alleged to have been made) by parents but not kept. The law will only enforce such informal arrangements when it can be shown that someone acted to their own detriment in a way they would not have done had the promise not been made. This is called ‘promissory estoppel’ in legal terminology.
Such claims can be very difficult to substantiate.
In the latest such case, the son of a farming couple claimed that his mother and late father made a promise to him that in exchange for his working full time on the family farm throughout his adult life for a very low wage, he would inherit it. It is now valued at more than £1 million, although the farming business makes very small profits.
His mother claimed that no such promise was made and that the son will inherit a one-third share in the farm with his four siblings sharing the other two thirds.
When it became obvious that the mother was likely to take steps to abrogate the agreement, the son went to court to seek an order to prevent her from making any disposition of the property.
The usual contradictory evidence was heard and the usual antipathy between different siblings was present. Although one of the children supported her mother’s contentions, unusually, two of the other children supported their brother’s claim. Eight other witnesses were called.
Finding that the weight of evidence strongly favoured the son, the court ruled that to protect his position he should be allowed to present a draft form of order (the judge made some suggestions as to how that might be accomplished) for negotiation and approval or settlement by a further court hearing if needed.