Court Awards Estate to “The last person” the Testator wanted to receive his Property

A recent case has highlighted the importance of testators being cautious about any promises they make to friends and family about an inheritance just in case the recipient of the promise then goes on to detrimentally rely upon it.

Bill Taylor died in 2010, leaving an estate valued at over £1 million. The main asset was Lower Manaton Farm in Callington, Cornwall.

By the terms of his Will Bill left:-

  • £650,000 to charity;
  • 55% of the remainder to his great-granddaughter Isobel Constantine;
  • 15% of the remainder to his niece Gabrielle Bradbury and her husband Peter Bradbury;
  • 30% of the remainder to his nephew Roger Taylor and his partner Denise Burkinshaw on the condition that they moved out of the Property within 6 months of his death.

However, a recent Court of Appeal decision has declared that Roger and Denise are the rightful owners of the farm as a result of a promise Bill made to them upon which they detrimentally relied. This is despite clear evidence that it is not what Bill wanted as he was convinced that Roger would “blow all the money”.

So what did the Court consider to be sufficient detrimental reliance? Bill had asked Roger and Denise to move from their Sheffield home to live with him after a theft of a lawnmower from an outhouse. Roger and Denise duly sold up and moved down to Cornwall to live with Bill. They were adamant that he had promised to leave them the farm in return for them moving down and providing Bill with care.

However, a legal dispute arose when the couple discovered that Bill was not going to leave them the property. Bill signed a statement confirming “Roger would be the last person that I would leave the house to. There was never any intention of leaving my house to him, or anyone else”.

The dispute originated whilst Bill was alive and continued after his death.

It was Bill’s case that he had only ever agreed to them living with him rent-free if they contributed to the bills and that he had the right to throw them out at any time.

In 2011 the first judge to hear the case agreed with Roger and Denise and awarded them the Property, subject to payment of inheritance tax. Despite the care the couple provided only apparently amounting to helping to empty the bins, moving the car in and out of the garage and putting laundry into the washing machine- the judge felt this was sufficient to seal the deal.

The Court of Appeal has recently upheld the initial decision, leaving Roger and Denise the property, amounting to 80% of the estate, subject to inheritance tax (which wouldn’t have otherwise been payable if the terms of the Will had been observed).

The case therefore highlights how important it is for caution to be exercised, particularly in farming families, when promises of inheritance are made to friends and family if there’s a chance that they might detrimentally rely on those promises. There are numerous cases of farming families becoming embroiled in protracted inheritance disputes regarding the ownership of the family farm.

Where people are promised an inheritance, like Roger and Denise, and detrimentally rely upon that promise then its important that they protect themselves. One way of doing this is to get a written agreement signed whilst the parties are still on good terms, as you never know when relations may deteriorate in the future.

For free initial advice on inheritance disputes or contested Will claims call us on 0808 139 1599 or email us at lee.dawkins@sleeblackwell.co.uk