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Proprietary Estoppel – Guest v Guest and another {2019}

In a recent High Court Case involving a claim based on proprietary estoppel, His Honour Judge Russen QC, made an award in favour of the Claimant to allow a clean break.

The claimant, Andrew Guest, brought a claim against his parents David and Josephine Guest relating to the family farm known as ‘Tump Farm’ and the family farming business carried on at Tump Farm. Andrew worked on the farm full-time from leaving school in 1982 up to 2015.

Andrew and his wife occupied Granary House from 1989. It was situated on Tump Farm. They raised their children there. Andrew devoted his working life to the farm and the business, claiming to work on average 60 hours per week for little reward. He relied on assurances from his father that he would inherit the farm or a substantial interest in it upon his father’s death. He did not see or know what was in his father’s will.

In October 1981, David and Josephine each made a Will which expressed the wish that Andrew and Ross should ultimately own the agricultural land and premises at Tump Farm “and any other agricultural premises owned wholly or in part by me at my death” and have the opportunity to continue the farming business then carried on by the ML and DG Guest Partnership.

In July 1997 Andrew and his brother Ross launched their own quad trekking business. Ross took the lead in the business whilst Andrew focused on Tump Farm.

After an accident in 1999, David’s accountant Mr Allen, provided advice about bringing Andrew and Ross into the partnership and transferring land to them. At the time, David expressed concerns about doing this because he feared if matrimonial difficulties arose for his sons, their wives could make potential claims which he wished to avoid.

Andrew’s younger brother Ross began working on the farm full-time from 2005. Andrew purchased Ross’ share in their quad trekking business.

In 2014, Andrew had a disagreement with his fatherand his parents changed their wills to disinherit him save for a right to occupy the cottage.

Andrew moved away from Tump Farm with his family in 2015 to pursue new employment.

Andrew’s parents then changed their wills again to completely disinherit him.

The court found that Andrew had reasonably relied upon the consistent assurances made by his father over the years and this had caused him significant financial detriment. The court considered that even though Andrew had obtained new employment and had played a part in the falling out, this did not diminish the injustice of David’s actions since 2014. David had abandoned his assurances and Andrew was entitled to an equitable remedy proportionate to the detriment suffered.

In exercising his discretion, His Honour Judge Russen QC considered that given the clear breakdown between the family, it was unlikely that the parties could work together again and accordingly he ordered a financial remedy to compensate Andrew for the detriment he had suffered which allowed the parties to have a ‘clean break’.

It is always easier to run a claim based on proprietary estoppel where there is documentary evidence of reliance on promises and financial detriment. This case shows that courts are willing to compensate an injured party to give effect to a party’s reasonable expectations by making an award that is proportionate to the detriment suffered.

Patricia WollingtonPatricia Wollington – Dispute Resolution Solicitor
Sykes Anderson Perry Solicitors