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Broken promises - estoppel claims

Disputes can arise after a person's death if a will does not reflect a promise made by the deceased before there 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.

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 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, if John owns a home in which he and his partner Jennifer live together, and Jennifer contributes to the monthly mortgage repayments and spends a significant amount of money on renovating the property, Jennifer may have an interest in the property in "equity" because of her contributions.

Resulting trust claims

A resulting trust arises where property is held by one person legally, but as a matter of fact it belongs to another. For example if a property is purchased in John's name, but Jennifer provided the monies to fund the purchase, Jennifer is the beneficial owner of the property and a resulting trust would arise.

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 on freephone 0800 0931336, or by email willdisputes@ashfords.co.uk for a free, no obligation chat to see how we can help you.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • I have not received an inheritance that I was promised. Is there anything I can do?

    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 a proprietary estoppel claim.

  • How much will it cost?

    It is difficult to say how much the total cost of such a claim will be as it will depend upon what work needs to be undertaken and how the other parties deal with the claim.

    The overall cost of court proceedings can however vary from a few thousand pounds to many tens of thousands of pounds.  Depending on the circumstances of the case, we generally always try and settle our cases outside of court to keep costs to a minimum for our clients. This also means our clients have as much control as they can over any settlement reached. 

    We appreciate that the cost of obtaining legal advice or pursuing or defending a claim is often of most concern to clients.  Depending on the circumstances of your case, we may be able to offer you alternative funding options, such as "no win, no fee" or a deferred payment arrangement.