Disputes involving farmland forming the substantial part of an estate continue to come up. In the recent case of Horsford v Horsford  EWHC 584 (Ch), a son (Peter Horsford) ended up in a fiercely contested dispute with his mother over the family farm.
Horsford v Horsford
Mrs Horsford divorced Peter’s father in 2011 and subsequently left the farm due to retirement in 2016. The 540 acre Huntingdon estate was valued at over £6 million.
In typical fashion in disputes such as this, Peter alleged that his parents had ‘groomed’ him to take over the farm once they were no longer able to operate it. Peter relied on fairly familiar claims that his parents made comments to him that the farm will ‘all be his one day’. Mrs Horsford denied that she ever promised Peter the farm in a clear and unequivocal way. Rather she wished to see equality between her three children.
Peter relying on the principle of proprietary estoppel by virtue of his claims that he was promised the farm and that he acted to his detriment by devoting his life to the farm, defending his mother’s claim that she should be entitled to half of the farm.
Unfortunately for Peter, the Judge found in favour of Mrs Horsford and awarded her the sum of £2.52 million.
This dispute highlights the need for a promise to be clear and unequivocal for proprietary estoppel to bind the parties. It further demonstrates that these cases are evidentially difficult as they rely largely upon the parties witness evidence alone without much by way of supporting documentation.
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