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A promise of inheritance has been withdrawn. Can I claim against my parents?

Partner Samara Dutton responds to a Financial Times’ reader on a farm inheritance dispute.

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Published 15 March 2023

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Promises are not contracts and so are not usually enforceable. However, in England and Wales, where you rely on a promise to your detriment, you may be able to apply to overturn this. Here, you may have accepted low wages, and no doubt structured your life in a certain way for years on the expectation that you would inherit the farm on your parents’ death.

The Supreme Court has ruled by a majority in Guest v Guest that the appropriate remedy in such cases is the enforcement of the promise, rather than compensation for the loss suffered. While that is now confirmed as the guiding principle, the rules are flexible according to the individual circumstances of each case. The court will consider other factors in determining the appropriate remedy, such as whether the transfer of the promised asset is feasible, whether it would result in an unjust outcome for others, and whether the proposed remedy is proportional to the detriment suffered.

Before seeking any legal action, I do advise attempting to reach an agreement with one’s parents.

For more information, visit our contentious trusts & probate page.

This article was first published on the Financial Times in March 2023.

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Shorter Reads

A promise of inheritance has been withdrawn. Can I claim against my parents?

Partner Samara Dutton responds to a Financial Times’ reader on a farm inheritance dispute.

Published 15 March 2023

Associated sectors / services

Authors

Promises are not contracts and so are not usually enforceable. However, in England and Wales, where you rely on a promise to your detriment, you may be able to apply to overturn this. Here, you may have accepted low wages, and no doubt structured your life in a certain way for years on the expectation that you would inherit the farm on your parents’ death.

The Supreme Court has ruled by a majority in Guest v Guest that the appropriate remedy in such cases is the enforcement of the promise, rather than compensation for the loss suffered. While that is now confirmed as the guiding principle, the rules are flexible according to the individual circumstances of each case. The court will consider other factors in determining the appropriate remedy, such as whether the transfer of the promised asset is feasible, whether it would result in an unjust outcome for others, and whether the proposed remedy is proportional to the detriment suffered.

Before seeking any legal action, I do advise attempting to reach an agreement with one’s parents.

For more information, visit our contentious trusts & probate page.

This article was first published on the Financial Times in March 2023.

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