Family Inheritance Dispute Resembles “Modern-Day King Lear”

by Karen Young

24 April 2024

In a recent High Court case, a family inheritance dispute over a £7.5 million farm in Cornwall has been likened to a “modern-day King Lear” by the judge at a pre-trial hearing. The case involves Angela Heyes, an accountant, and her engineer husband Neil, who claim they were promised ownership of the farm by Angela’s late father.

Angela and Neil allege that Angela’s parents assured them of inheriting the farm, prompting them to leave successful careers in the city and relocate to Cornwall. They assert that these promises were repeated and voluntary, leading them to invest significantly in the property, which includes a thriving glamping site complete with a 22ft yurt. Due to these alleged promises, the couple argue that the land is theirs under the legal concept of “proprietary estoppel” – a legal remedy that can be used when a landowner has promised that property will be transferred to someone at a later date, only to later renege on their statement.

Following Angela’s father’s passing in 2020, a legal battle ensued with Angela’s mother, Sarah Holt, who disputes the extent and certainty of any promises made to Angela and Neil. Sarah Holt argues that the assurances given were not sufficient to grant full ownership of the farm to Angela and Neil.

The judge overseeing the case emphasised the tragic consequences of the dispute, drawing parallels to Shakespeare’s “King Lear”, where family divisions arise over inheritance. He urged both parties to settle the matter outside of a full trial, cautioning that the legal costs could be ruinous for Angela and Neil if they were unsuccessful.

This case highlights the complexities and emotional stakes involved in family inheritance disputes. It serves as a reminder of the importance of clear communication and legal clarity when it comes to estate planning and promises of inheritance within families.


This article was written with the assistance of Saffron Nunes-Petts.
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