Proprietary Estoppel

Proprietary Estoppel, and promissory Estoppel,  is an equitable remedy and requires the claimant to show:​

  • An unambiguous promise by words or conduct.
  • Reliance on that promise to the claimant's detriment.
  • That it would be unjust or inequitable to allow the other party 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 subsequently transfer the farm to his son, his son could have an estoppel claim against his father (or his father’s estate).

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.

How to enforce a broken promise

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.

Read our FAQs: Proprietary Estoppel.

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 for a no obligation chat to see how we can help you.

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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.  

  • What is an estoppel?

    Estoppel is a principle of justice and of equity which provides, in very basic terms, that “…when a man, by his words or conduct, has led another to believe in a particular state of affairs, he will not be allowed to go back on it when it would be unjust or inequitable for him to do so” (Lord Denning MR in Moorgate Mercantile v Twitchings 1977)

  • What is proprietary estoppel?

    Proprietary estoppel is a claim where a party claims a right to land belonging to another party, in circumstances where the claimant has been led to believe, by a promise (by words or conduct) by the other party, that they have or can expect to be given an interest in the land.  

  • What is promissory estoppel?

    Promissory estoppel is a claim where a party has, by words or conduct, made a promise to another party which relates to the legal relations between them.  Once the other party has acted on that promise, the promisor cannot then afterwards act as if the promise had not been made.  

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