Farmer’s son wins long-running inheritance case

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A farmer, disinherited in favour of his brother after a lifetime’s work on the family farm, has won his case in the Supreme Court [ad}

Andrew Guest won his case against his parents in a battle over inheriting the family farm (Image: Clarke Willmott)

A Supreme Court judgment has been handed down in a long-running and significant farm inheritance dispute.
Three generations of the Guest family have farmed Tump Farm near Chepstow since 1938. A family falling-out between Andrew Guest and his parents, David and Josephine Guest, meant that he was told to find another job, move his family out of the farm’s cottage, the farming business partnership was dissolved and Andrew was disinherited completely.

A lifetime on the farm
As is common in farming families, Andrew left school at 16 and worked full-time on the farm for a low wage, living in a converted cottage on the farm, later with his wife and children too. His parents repeatedly led Andrew to believe that he would inherit a significant portion of Tump Farm.
Regrettably, the relationship between Andrew and his father broke down. In April 2015, 32 years after Andrew started working full-time on the farm – often on less than minimum wage – his parents’ solicitor wrote to Andrew dissolving the partnership, forcing Andrew to seek work elsewhere. They also gave Andrew and his family three months to leave their cottage. David Guest made a further Will, disinheriting Andrew completely in favour of his younger brother in 2018.
Andrew brought a claim in the High Court against his parents on the basis of the doctrine of proprietary estoppel. In essence, this allows a person to ask the Court to intervene if:

  1. There has been a promise or assurance made by a person (A) to another (B) which creates an expectation that B has or would become entitled to a right or interest in A’s land;
  2. That promise or assurance was relied on by B;
  3. B has suffered detriment as a result of relying on the promise or assurance; and
  4. It would be unconscionable, in all the circumstances, to allow A to go back on their promise or assurance.

£1.3 million judgement
His Honour Judge Russen QC accepted Andrew’s evidence that his parents repeatedly led him to believe that he would inherit a significant part of the farm, stating that it was unconscionable for the parents to go back on this promise.
As a result, the High Court awarded Andrew a clean break lump sum payment of 50 per cent of the value of the dairy farming business and 40 per cent of the value of the farm to start a life elsewhere, together valued at more than £1.3 million. Effectively this is what his parents had promised him he would inherit.
The Judge recognised that this would almost certainly mean that the farm would have to be sold in order to satisfy the Judgment.
The parents were granted permission to appeal to the Court of Appeal on the question of remedy; what sum of money the parents should pay to Andrew as a result of their unconscionable conduct. The Court of Appeal roundly rejected Andrew’s parents’ arguments and upheld the original High Court award.
The parents were then granted permission to appeal to the Supreme Court on the way the award was calculated. David and Josephine Guest argued that relief should be calculated based on the detriment Andrew has suffered, rather than his expectation of inheritance.

Comprehensively dismissed
In a judgment handed down on 19 October 2022, the Supreme Court comprehensively dismissed this and warned that the detriment-based approach forms no part of proprietary estoppel law because it is the repudiation of the promised expectation which is the harm caused. The parents did, however, successfully appeal that immediately awarding Andrew his interest in the farm accelerated his inheritance – his parents never promised the farm to Andrew during their lifetimes.
David and Josephine Guest can now decide whether to sell the farm to achieve a ‘clean break’ or to put the farm into trust for Andrew to inherit on their deaths.
Agriculture specialists at national law firm Clarke Willmott LLP represented Andrew. Polly Ridgway from the team said: ‘Andrew’s parents put in place a series of measures which were designed to leave Andrew, in his fifties, with no home, no job, no savings, and no pension, despite a lifetime of hard work. Thankfully, the Supreme Court was prepared to use its powers to prevent this clear injustice and, as a result, Andrew will receive his inheritance promised to him either now (as an accelerated sum) or on his parents’ deaths. We are delighted to have helped Andrew achieve this result.
‘Aside from being a significant decision in this area of law, the case also highlights the need for those involved in or contemplating bringing inheritance disputes to get expert legal advice as soon as possible so as to avoid the situation Andrew’s parents now find themselves.’

For more information on how the Clarke Willmott Agricultural disputes team can help you or your business, please visit www.clarkewillmott.com

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