High Court decision on yet another proprietary estoppel claim


By Danielle Spalding

As we progress through 2019 we continue to see proprietary estoppel claims being decided by the courts and especially in farming families.  

The High Court handed down Judgement on 16 April 2019 in the latest case of Guest v Guest.  

Andrew Guest was the claimant and the son of David and Josephine.  Andrew left school at 16 years of age and worked full time on the farm, often working up to 80 hours a week.  

Throughout Andrew's time on the farm he was paid a low wage.  Andrew and his wife went on to have children and lived in a converted cottage on the farm.  

In 2012 two separate farming partnerships were created.  The first between Andrew and his parents at the farm.  The second between Andrew's brother and his parents in relation to a rented farm.  

The relationship between Andrew and his parents subsequently broke down and in 2015 the partnership was dissolved.  Andrew was forced to find work elsewhere and to vacate the cottage.  

David Guest then made a further will which disinherited Andrew. 

Andrew made a proprietary estoppel claim against his parents which was robustly defended.  

He was successful in making out such a claim and the Judge awarded Andrew 50% of the post-tax market value of the farming business carried on at the farm and 40% of the post-tax market value of the farm itself. 

 This case demonstrates the need for families to have open and frank discussions about succession and plans for the future and for arrangements to be properly documented. 

My findings above mean that it is necessary to exercise the "broad judgmental discretion" in an endeavour to do what is necessary to avoid an unconscionable result or, alternatively, to identify the minimum equity to do justice. It is perhaps unsurprising that I have found this to be the most difficult aspect of the case to decide when the outcome rests upon that discretion and not just findings of primary fact. As I have addressed in paragraphs 159 and 160 above, other matters, beyond those that were contested in these proceedings and decided by me, may bear upon the exercise of the discretion.
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