Estoppel and constructive trust claims

Estoppel claims

Disputes can arise after a person's death if a will does not reflect a promise made by the deceased before his death (such as a promise to transfer land or property). It may be possible to enforce a promise that is not subsequently fulfilled in a will but only if the claimant has relied on that promise and acted on it to his or her detriment. This is known as an estoppel claim.

Estoppel is an equitable remedy and requires:

  • An unambiguous promise by words or conduct.
  • Evidence that you relied upon the promise to your detriment.
  • Evidence that it would be unjust or inequitable to go back on the promise.

An estoppel claim could arise where, for example, a father promises to his son that he will give him the family farm and, relying on that promise, the son works on the farm for many years on a low wage. If the father does not consequently transfer the farm to his son, his son could have an estoppel claim on his father's death.

Constructive trust claims

A person may also have a constructive trust claim on the basis that he or she has an ownership interest in a property. These claims are governed by the Trust of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996 (known as "TOLATA").

In order to establish a claim under a constructive trust you need to show that there was an agreement or an arrangement to grant ownership and establish:

1. A common intention.
2. Detrimental reliance.
3. Unconscionable denial of rights.

For example, direct contributions to the purchase price of the property or to the mortgage where title is not in that person's name would usually satisfy the necessary elements of a constructive trust. Constructive trust and estoppel claims are often run together as a result of the overlap in the factual circumstances for each claim.

If you would like advice on challenging a will, or indeed on any other inheritance or trust dispute, please contact our Disputed Wills and Trusts Team by telephone on +44 (0)1884 203 018 or FREEPHONE 0800 0931336, or by email

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Disputed Wills and Trusts

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