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Court Decides Against Farm Promise

The High Court has decided that a son who worked for 35 years on his father’s farm on the promise that he would inherit the property will get nothing.
Sam James claimed that his father Allen agreed that when he died Sam would inherit the farm business. When Allen died aged 81 in 2012 his Will left the farm to his wife Sandra, aged 79 and Sam’s sisters Karen James and Serena Underwood.
The farm, worth £3m at Pennymore Pitt Farm, near Gillingham, Dorset Gillingham consisted of 100s of acres and livestock including cows and sheep.
Judge Paul Matthews said: ‘In my judgment, Sam’s eagerness to inherit the farmland from his father has caused him to persuade himself that he was being promised something when he was not. Allen James did not intend his words in that way, and did not intend them to be relied upon subsequently by Sam.
‘It is not consistent with the image of Mr James as someone who kept everything in his own hands and did not confide in others.’
The court heard Sam James left school early and worked for the family business for nearly 35 years. His barrister, Penny Reed QC, described him as having “worked his socks off” and it was said that he eventually became the driving force of the farm business.
In 2004, Allen James instructed solicitors to draft a Will giving the farm and land to Sam James but Mrs James took exception to the Will and it was never executed. It was alleged that the Will he later made was invalid as Allen James lacked of legal capacity at the time when he signed it. That Will disinherited Sam James entirely.
Sam James brought a claim relying on the promise of the land but the High Court in London has ruled Mr James was well within his rights to leave his son out of his fortune
Dismissing Sam’s claims, Judge Matthews said: ‘I do not doubt that he believed that he would inherit the farm when his father died.
‘I also accept that the defendants were aware, at least in general terms, of Sam’s belief, even if they did not agree with it.
‘But I am not satisfied that Allen James ever made any promise or assurance to give or leave Pennymore to him.
‘On the contrary, as Sam also said, Mr James did not make promises to transfer property.’
One factor that appears to have been relevant to the Court’s decision was the fact that Sam James had not worked for nothing in the family business – as has been the case in previous cases on similar facts – but that he had been a partner in the family haulage business and when that partnership ended had walked away with the haulage business, some land and £200,000 cash. He had also been paid the “going rate” in his early days working on the farm.
This case is an important one in that it shows merely asserting a promise and reliance upon it will not be sufficient to overturn a testator’s Will and their freedom to dispose of their Estate as they see fit.

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