The High Court has granted the youngest daughter of a Yeovil farmer a substantial cash payment in lieu of her rightful share of Woodrow family farm.
The family farm belonged to Frank Habberfield and his wife Jane, and was operated by them as a partnership. They held the property as beneficial joint tenants until Frank’s death in 2014, when the title passed by survivorship to his wife. In any case Frank had also left a Will leaving his entire estate to his wife.
The couple had a son and three daughters, the youngest of which was Lucy Habberfield, who had worked on the farm since her childhood.
Lucy was a dedicated worker on the farm who had worked 70 hours a week on the farm. She began working on the 220 acre Woodrow Farm in the 1980s, earning as little as £40-50 per week, despite working a six day week.
Lucy told the Court that she was instrumental in building up its dairy herd, milked the cows daily, and had just 5 weeks holiday in more than three decades. Since marrying her husband in 1999 they moved into a house nearby the farm and continued helping with the farm. Her partner, Stuart had also worked full time at the farm.
They both worked at the farm until 2013, and left following a fight with one of her sister. For several years before that, there had been long arguments amongst the family about what benefits they ought to receive from the business for their work.
Lucy claimed that her father had assured her that she would take the farm over when he retired and had promised her a stake in the farm in return for her help with the business. She therefore brought an action in proprietary estoppel claiming the whole property.
Lucy’s mother Jane, opposed the claim stating that neither she nor Frank had ever made any promises to Lucy. She went on to say that even if Frank had made a promise behind her back, it could not be binding on his wife and denied that any such promised could amount to proprietary estoppel on the grounds that Lucy exaggerated her work on the farm ad had received some benefits from it.
Mr Justice Birss ruled in her daughters favour, awarding her £1.17 million stake in the farm. As always in such a case, he reached his decision based on the specific facts. In this instance, there was written evidence in the form of a letter written in 2008, from a surveyor employed by Frank and Jane. The letter recorded a proposal to be put to Lucy for a new limited partnership to run the business and that Lucy should end up being the owner of the overall farm after her parents’ deaths, with some of the property passing to her brother and sisters.
Mr Justice Birss said that Lucy was ‘clearly devoted to her father’ and that Frank had given her assurances that were ‘not idle or casual remarks’, and that her work would not be for nothing.
Justice Birss said during his judgement regarding the remarks made; “They were made in a manner in which it was intended Lucy would take seriously, to continue her commitment to the farm, to continue to work hard and to accept the wages and hours she was working. She did so,” Lucy had by way of continued work at the farm ‘kept her side of the bargain’.
Jane said she ‘wished to be fair’ to all four of her children, and Justice Birss accepted that Lucy had not been promised the whole farm.
Mr Justice Birss concluded that Lucy had proved her claim, though only to the extent that she was entitled to a significant part of the farm, amounting to around 45%, rather than all of it. He was reluctant to split the farm property up, partly for business reasons, but also because Lucy’s mother would then need to leave her home. As such he ordered Jane to pay Lucy the cash equivalent of her interest in the farm.
He left it up to the family to try and agree the actual figure and how this would be raised as he said he hoped the cash could be raised without selling the whole farm and allowing Jane to remain at her home.
In scenarios such as this it is fundamentally important to ensure that your affairs and estate are in order. Express wishes made in this way should be considered in some death if your decisions should change or alter. Failing to make a Will or update it can cause chaos and disruption to your family or dependents. An up to date Will provides you with the security that your wishes are complied with and provides your family and friends ease of dealing with your estate following death.
This is all the more reason to contact a solicitor to have a Will written up. Our team of experts are able to take you through the process to guarantee you the service is tailored specifically to your needs and advise on all suitable areas.
Dated: 05/03/2018 by Samantha Kennedy