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Disinherited because of a dislike of farming?

I noted with interest the headline ‘Cow-hating son loses dairy farm in High Court’ in The Times last week.

Reading on it was clear that this ran deeper than the son’s dislike of cows and that family feuds and arguments had been happening for several years, but it did get me thinking about some of the reasons that I have encountered for disinheritance.

But first, back to the case.  Clive Shaw was written out of his parents will back in 2016 after a family argument at Christmas. He had been promised the farm from 1978 onwards but this came with the condition that he worked “in the manner of a dedicated long-term farmer.”

Judge John Linwood ruled that it was clear that he had never taken an interest in farming despite Mr Shaw’s claim that he had worked for very little money on the understanding he would inherit the business.

Not only was his claim not upheld, but the judge also ordered Mr Shaw and his partner to leave the caravan that they live in close to the farmhouse and pick up the lawyer’s bills, upwards of £100,000.

The lesson learnt: just because you have always been assured you will inherit it doesn’t mean that you will.

I am often asked by clients whether they are entitled to a share of a loved one’s estate because their late relative promised them they would inherit something but there is nothing left to them in the will.

People disinherit relatives for all kinds of reasons.  The most common reason I hear is that the deceased did not like the child’s choice of partner or spouse.  The most unusual one I have dealt with was a case where the son was disinherited because he followed a different football team!  Nothing surprises me anymore…

So, where do you stand legally? 

If you are disinherited, the court can consider the deceased’s conduct when dealing with a claim for financial provision under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.

The court will also have to weigh up several other factors, so a promise made by the deceased does not guarantee that you will receive a share of the estate.

Another legal route is to bring a claim based on the legal doctrine of proprietary estoppel.  The key elements are:

  • A promise that the disappointed person will receive the benefit
  • The disappointed person has relied upon that promise
  • The disappointed person has suffered detriment

As a family lawyer with a specialism in representing clients in relation to claims against estates under the Inheritance Act, I am seeing an increase in cases involving clients who have been cut out of their parent’s will. These cases can be extremely complicated, so I would always recommend you seek legal advice if you find yourself in this situation.

Theo Hoppen was a Senior Solicitor in our Harrogate office. He advises on all aspects of family law with a specialism in representing clients in relation to claims against estates under the Inheritance Act.

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