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The Problem with Promises

24th March, 2015

In English law, the doctrine of estoppel has long protected individuals who rely on a promise made to them which is then broken with the result that they suffer a loss.

The recently decided case of Davies v Davies has seen the Court upholding the doctrine to award the claimant Eiran Davies £1.3m from her parents’ Carmarthenshire farm and serves as a salutary reminder of the potential dangers of making promises, particularly where money or assets are involved.

The facts of the case were that Miss Davies had worked on the family farm for many years for little or no payment. She had done so on the understanding that her parents would one day pass the farm to her. Miss Davies had two sisters, neither of whom had been closely involved with the farm business, having left to pursue their own careers. Miss Davies’ parents had originally intended to gift a 49% share of their business to their daughter and had prepared the paperwork but later decided to leave the bulk of the farm business to her in their Wills.

However, a family rift subsequently developed leading ultimately to Miss Davies leaving the farm in 2012 and suing her parents to establish an interest in the farm on grounds of estoppel. The Court ruled in favour of Miss Davies and following an unsuccessful appeal by the parents, Miss Davies was awarded a one third share of the farming business worth £1.3m.

The case illustrates the danger of making promises, particularly where a family business is involved, and practitioners involved in will writing or estate planning need to be alert to the fact that previously made promises could give rise to grounds for a future estoppel claim.

If you have made promises to family members which might become legally binding or if you have had promises made to you which you might one day wish to enforce then it is important that you seek specialist legal advice now to prevent problems arising in the future.

For further information on this or any other related enquiry please contact James Wallace on 01244 405588 or email [email protected].

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