Inheritance promises can be enforceable

Inheritance promises can be enforceable

Inheritance promises made to friends and family can be relied on. To find out where you stand contact our free legal helpline.

The case of Bill Taylor illustrates how inheritance promises can be enforceable.

Bill Taylor died 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, the Court of Appeal 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.

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 subsequently 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 inheritance promises are made to friends and family. There are numerous cases of farming families becoming embroiled in protracted inheritance disputes regarding the ownership of the family farm arising from such inheritance promises..

For free initial advice on disputes arising from inheritance promises call our expert team on 0333 888 0407 or email [email protected]

Inheritance promises can be enforceable