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What is Proprietary Estoppel?

Monday, 27 October 2014

Proprietary Estoppel is a legal challenge, used for challenging a will. It allows people to challenge a will if they were given assurances by the testator (the person who made the will) during their lifetime that they would inherit property or land from them following their death, but then did not.

clip_image002Before you embark on this route, you need to bear in mind that the law cannot stop people from changing their mind, and that anyone has the right to change their will as they see fit. Proprietary Estoppel is designed only for cases where the law considers the actions of the testator to have been “unconscionable”.

The actions of the testator would have been unconscionable if, for example, they had given someone an assurance about inheriting land or property, and that person had acted in a way that was influenced by that promise, but then did not receive what was promised to them and thus was left disadvantaged as a result. It may lead to the person who has been promised the inheritance to spend money on the property or the land, or to carry out work on the land or property, with the testator deliberately not telling them that they actually have no intention of leaving that land or property to them in their will.

One of the more well known recent cases of proprietary estoppels was Thorner v Major 2009, whereby a farmer promised a relative that he would inherit his farm in his will if he worked on the farm for no pay. The relative worked for free for over 30 years, but then did not receive the farm in the farmer’s will when he passed away. The House of Lords considered this to be Proprietary Estoppel and the relative received the farm.

For a Proprietary Estoppel claim to be successful, you have to be able to prove that the promise was indeed made, that it was your reliance on that promise which made you act the way you did, and that by acting that way you have been disadvantaged. For more information about challenging a will, click here to read our guide to contesting a will, or click here to visit the estate planning section of our website.

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