Proprietary Estoppel, the one with the Jam

by Karen Young

24 June 2024

Brothers, Adrian and Richard, brought a claim against their Father’s Estate following not inheriting their share in the family business, as they had been promised by their father during his lifetime. It is alleged that their parents (their mother pre-deceased) promised that the three brothers would receive an equal share of their parents’ shares in the family business.

Both Adrian and Richard have been said to have dedicated their lives to the family business and began working on it from an early age. Allegedly they were paid relatively little and worked long hours, and the parents said that the sons were working for their futures and that they would be treated equally in return.

Eventually, the business developed into a £10 million operation. However, the family disagreed over business finances resulting in their father amending his Will so that only Philip (the third brother) would benefit from his father’s share in the business.

The Judge ordered that Adrian and Richard should be given a share worth £1 million. Now, Philip has appealed this decision via the Court of Appeal, and the Court of Appeal have reserved their judgement. More to follow…

So, what is proprietary estoppel?

A legal remedy that can be sought when a property/landowner has promised property/land to be transferred to another person, but then does not make good on that promise. It is sometimes used when a property/landowner who has promised property/land, passes away and does not leave said property/land in their Will to an individual.

When do these types of claims arise?

They most commonly arise in farming inheritance. For example when an adult child has purportedly been made a promise from their parent(s) that one day the family home/land/farm will be theirs, and that promise is not fulfilled. This can be because either, the now deceased parent has not made a Will and so their Estate passes in line with the intestacy rules or, their Will does not honour the promises made. Either way, that individual relied on that promise made by their (now deceased) parent(s) and that promise has caused them detriment i.e. they have not inherited it.

To make a proprietary estoppel claim you must show (amongst other things) that:
  • A clear promise or assurance was made to the claimant;
  • That clear promise or assurance was relied on by the claimant;
  • A reasonable reliance on the clear promise or assurance caused the claimant to suffer detriment.
How can such situations be avoided?
  • Make a Will that clearly addresses your wishes!
  • Write down what you have discussed and keep that evidence. It may come in handy later down the line, if a claim is made.
  • Do not make promises/assurances that you do not intend to later uphold.
Points to note:

Even if you do make a Will, there is no guarantee that a claim will not be brought against your Estate. However, keeping evidence will likely diminish the success of such a claim.


If you would like advice on creating a new Will, updating a Will or Estate Planning, please get in touch.


This article was written with the assistance of Emily Dickinson.


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