In the recent case of Todd v Parsons, the Deceased's daughter, Elizabeth, succeeded in bringing a claim for proprietary estoppel in relation to her Deceased mother's house.
In 1980 the Deceased, her sister, Elizabeth (and her then husband), sold their respective properties and bought a farm together as a 'family commune'. They planned to redevelop the farm into three separate dwellings.
Elizabeth and her husband were concerned about giving up their existing home in Bristol, which they had just spent six years refurbishing. They were also worried about difficulties that may arise if any of the parties sold their share in the farm to a new owner outside the family. There was therefore an informal arrangement that the Deceased and her sister would leave their dwellings to Elizabeth and not sell them to anyone else. In return, Elizabeth and her husband promised to be the major investors in the project, in terms of both money and time; a promise which they fulfilled.
The Judge noted that it was not surprising that the arrangement was informal and not legally documented, although it was helpful that it was referred to in contemporaneous documents such as a "List of Actions" and that it was reflected in the terms of the Deceased and her sister's Wills, drawn up shortly afterwards.
The Deceased's health deteriorated and in 2008, she was admitted to a care home. Later that year, she stated her intention to change her Will. She told Elizabeth that she did not know what was in her estate and asked for a list of her assets. However, she did say that she knew that her house was to be left to Elizabeth's side of the family.
The Deceased's previous Will left her house to Elizabeth and made provision for her son Michael, from her other assets. The Deceased told the solicitor preparing her later Will, that her son was the poorer of her two children and more deserving. She felt that her current Will was unfair to her son, as the value of her house had increased more than that of her investment portfolio. Under her new Will, she left 70% of her estate to Michael, 25% to Elizabeth and 5% to her granddaughter (Elizabeth's daughter).
The Judge commented that to bring a claim in proprietary estoppel successfully, Elizabeth must show that there was a clear promise by the Deceased, which she relied upon to her detriment. It was held that the Deceased's promise to leave her house to Elizabeth was sufficiently clear and that Elizabeth had relied upon such a promise to her detriment, by selling her home and applying much time and money to the redevelopment of the farm. The Judge directed that the property should be held by the Deceased's estate upon trust for Elizabeth.
Case Citation: Todd v Parsons & Ors  EWHC 3366 (Ch)
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