Farmer successful in significant inheritance dispute case
Guest vs Guest: A Supreme Court judgment has been handed down in a long-running and significant inheritance dispute case between farmer Andrew Guest and his parents.
In this high-profile proprietary estoppel case, following a High Court trial and an appeal to the Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court has determined that the correct approach to framing a remedy is based on Andrew’s expectation of inheritance rather than the detriment-based approach put forward by his parents.
The Supreme Court has however partially allowed the parents’ appeal on the High Court’s overall remedy, on the basis that this otherwise accelerates Andrew’s inheritance during their lifetimes.
The High Court trial was brought by Andrew Guest who was made assurances by his parents that he would inherit the family farm, which he had worked on, for less than minimum wage, since the age of 16.
The Guest family has farmed Tump Farm near Chepstow since 1938 and for three generations. When the relationship between Andrew and his parents broke down in 2015, 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.
The Supreme Court ruled that Andrew was entitled to his inheritance because his parents had repudiated on their promise that one day Andrew would inherit the farm. The Supreme Court confirmed that the aim of proprietary estoppel is to remedy the unconscionable conduct of the promisor by satisfying the expectation of the promisee who had relied on that assurance to his/her detriment.
The Supreme Court firmly rejected the theory that the remedy for proprietary estoppel cases is to compensate for detriment suffered.
In the judgment handed down on 19 October, Andrew’s parents lost their appeal on this ground and this decision sets a significant precedent in this area of law on how to frame relief.
The Supreme Court allowed the parents’ appeal on the ground of accelerated receipt of Andrew’s inheritance during his parents’ lifetimes (something which they had never promised to do). The Supreme Court found that the High Court Judge had exceeded the ambit of the Court’s discretion by failing to adequately discount Andrew’s awarded sum to reflect accelerated receipt during his parents’ lifetimes.
The Supreme Court held that the parents now have two choices to fulfil Andrew’s expectation, either:
- Pay a reduced sum to Andrew now (based on an early receipt discount to be agreed or determined); or
- Hold Andrew’s share of the farm on trust for Andrew for their lifetimes.
Clarke Willmott’s agriculture team represented Andrew Guest at the High Court trial, the Court of Appeal Hearing and the Supreme Court appeal.
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.”