Q: My husband and I are tenant farmers. Now my dad is getting on he wants us to give up our farm next year and work for him on the family farm. He says it makes sense for us to take over the running now and if we do then we will inherit it when anything happens to him. The problem is, he’s not keen to go to a solicitor at this stage to legalise the arrangement and I’m worried that if we give up our farm and something goes wrong we will be left with nothing.
A: You are very wise to be worried. In fact there was a landmark legal case earlier this year (Habberfield v Habberfield (2018)) where a daughter relied on a promise made by her father that a part of the farm would be hers if she and her husband worked on it. When the father died, however, nothing had been formally arranged to ensure his promise would be upheld. As a result the daughter was not left a share and the farm went in entirety to her mother.
In cases such as the one mentioned above the solution may be to take Court proceedings and apply for ‘proprietary estoppel’. This would be a legal claim brought to deal with a dispute that has arisen and is very similar to the case referred to above namely inheritance by verbal promise.
Bringing such a claim does not necessarily mean you will succeed and is a costly exercise and one which could so easily be avoided by formally restructuring the business side of the farm and laying out clear succession plans, giving full consideration to the farm’s assets. Seeking the help of a solicitor who is well versed and experienced in agricultural matters to do this would ensure the security and peace of mind you want at a much cheaper price.