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What is Proprietary Estoppel?

Proprietary Estoppel may sound like a complicated legal term but really it’s quite simple. It’s a claim that might arise if property is promised to you on the death of the owner but then in their Will you find that it’s not going to be yours.

So imagine you’ve been working on a piece of land for many years for low or no payment on the promise that it will be yours one day, but when the landowner dies you discover that the land has not been left to you in their Will. This is when the concept of proprietary estoppel can help.

To prove proprietary estoppel you have to establish three things: an assurance, a reliance and a change of position or detriment.

  • The assurance is that the owner said that the land or property would be yours once they had passed.
  • The reliance is that you work on the land or property with the utmost belief that it will be yours.
  • The change of position or detriment is that you put yourself in a worse position on the assurance the property would be yours.

If you can prove these things then you would be well on your way to override what is written in the Will of the landowner.

A recent case is that of Eirian Davies, or the “Cowshed Cinderella” as she’s been called as she worked whilst her sisters partied. This didn’t occur after death of a landowner, but over Eirian’s eviction from a property on the family farm.

Eirian worked on her parents’ farm for over 30 years on the understanding that it would be hers on their death. She helped build the farm into a successful business but was paid very little.

Court proceedings started when Eirian’s parents tried to evict her from the cottage she lived in on the farm as they didn’t like the company she was keeping. Eirian claimed that she had a financial interest in the farm and business and relied on the promises made by her parents that the farm would be hers one day.

The Court found that Eirian had suffered a “detrimental reliance” on her parents’ promise of ownership and ruled she had a valid claim of Proprietary Estoppel. The final judgement saw Eirian receive £1.3million which is around one third of the value of the farm and business.

It is an interesting area of law as a lot of the “evidence” is just oral agreements, not much is actually put into writing. It’s always best to seek legal advice from a solicitor who is an expert in Contesting Wills to help.

If you believe you have a case of Proprietary Estoppel please call our expert team at Slater and Gordon Lawyers. You can call us on freephone 0800 916 9055 or contact us online and we will call you back.

Slater and Gordon are one of the UK's largest law firms with offices in London, Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Sheffield, Milton Keynes, Bristol, Cambridge, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Halifax, Newcastle, Wakefield, Merseyside, Derby and meetings rooms in Bramhall, Cheshire and in Hull, Yorkshire.

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