The claimants and defendant are brothers. The claimants brought this claim to challenge the dispositions made by their father in his last will. The principal asset in their father’s estate was his share in the market garden business which the family had operated together for many years, through a partnership which included several parcels of land and a company. Their father died in 2017, having changed his will in 2015 to leave the residue of his estate, including his share in the business, to the defendant and nothing to the claimants.
The claimants brought the claim, inter alia, on the basis of proprietary estoppel, contending that their father and mother (who had predeceased) had made numerous assurances to them over the years to the effect that, if they committed their lives to working in the family business, their parents would leave everything or at least their shares in the business to their sons equally, and that the claimants relied to their detriment on those assurances.
Following a 4-day trial in July 2023, Zacaroli J, sitting in the High Court in Bristol, today handed down judgment in the case.
The Judge found in favour of the claimants on their proprietary estoppel claim in relation to their father’s share in the family business, which would therefore be divided equally in thirds between the claimants and defendant.
He rejected the contention, inter alia, that the claimants had received sufficient value from the realisation of their shares in the family business to prevent an estoppel from arising on the basis that there had been no detriment due to countervailing benefits or otherwise that it was not unconscionable to do so or that the equity had been satisfied so that no remedy should be awarded.
Adopting the starting point suggested in Guest v Guest, he decided the appropriate remedy in the case, where assurances had been made and acted on over many years, was to give full effect to the assurances.
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