The Court of Appeal have upheld the ruling in Suggitt v Suggitt & Another  EWCH 903 (Ch) reflecting the Court's willingness to look at the facts of each case in deciding whether or not a Will should be followed even when the validity of the Will itself has not been challenged.
The deceased, a farmer worth £4 million, executed a Will leaving all of his property to his graduate daughter and nothing to his son who had dedicated his life to the farm and lived in one of the farmhouses with his family.
The son was written out of the Will when he decided to drop out of agricultural college and managed to spend inheritance money to the value of £38,000 in 9 months, much to his father’s disapproval. The Will was written when the son, now 31, was 16, leaving his entire estate to only one of the deceased’s daughters. The Will contained the provision that the beneficiary should transfer the farmland to her brother once she was satisfied that he had shown he was capable of working on and managing the farm.
Evidence was put before the Court to suggest that the father’s disapproval of his son’s actions had since been forgotten.
The son claimed against his sister both under the Inheritance Act and for proprietary estoppel. His mother and two other sisters supported these claims.
The Court held that the son had ‘based his life’ around the farm and in the circumstances believed that his father would not have wanted him to be homeless. The Will left ‘no reasonable financial provision’ for the son who had worked on the farm throughout his life for no pay and had reasonably expected the farmland and property in which he lived with his family to pass to him on the death of his father.
The son had clearly relied on the numerous promises made by his father that he would inherit the farm and farmhouse and as a result had suffered prejudice and/or detriment. The Court noted that the Will was poorly written and the outcome depended solely on the goodwill of the deceased’s daughter. In the circumstances, the Court awarded the son farmland and one of the farmhouses. The rest of the estate was still to pass to the sister as requested.
This case shows the extent to which Courts will look at the facts in each case. The judges also commented on the need for family matters such as this to be dealt with privately, highlighting the need for families to compromise in such circumstances to avoid the costly/time consuming process of litigation.
However, this is not always as easy as it may seem. If you find yourself in a similar position to the one above or have any queries about a Will under which you think you should have benefitted then please do not hesitate to contact Lynsey Harrison on 0113 336 3388 for more information.