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Family members may discuss what they would like to happen to their assets in the event of their death. They may even mention the contents of their will or what someone might inherit from their estate.

However, in England and Wales, most wills can usually be changed at any time prior to death. This can mean that, whilst someone may say that they will leave you a legacy in their will, they may not later act on that promise.

What is Proprietary Estoppel?

When someone reasonably relies on an unfulfilled promise of a legacy, they might lose out financially and may be able to bring a claim for ‘proprietary estoppel’. This occurs when:

  • A promise is made by person A to person B, that person B will inherit something from person A’s estate;
  • Person B relies on the promise made by person A; and
  • THIS causes person B to suffer some form of ‘detriment’.

For example, if someone works on their relative’s farm for 10 years for little or no wages, on the basis that they have been promised that they will inherit the farm in the future, they may be able to bring a claim for proprietary estoppel if they do not later inherit the farm.

This is because they may have relied on a promise (which has not been fulfilled) to their financial detriment because they have lost income over a substantial period of time.

What can a court do if a promised inheritance is not received?

If a court is satisfied that a promise of inheritance was made, which someone has relied upon to their detriment, it can award compensation. This might be in the form of an interest in a property or land, the payment of a lump sum or the transfer of property.

However, not every case where someone promises a relative or friend that they will receive something in their will results in a successful claim for proprietary estoppel. This is because such claims can involve verbal agreements (which can be difficult to prove) and each case is dealt with on its own merits.

How can our inheritance solicitors help?

If you are concerned about a promise of a legacy, which has not been fulfilled and you have acted to your financial detriment (as a result of an agreement that you thought was in place), our specialist inheritance dispute solicitors can advise you about your options.

Contact us to arrange a free initial 30-minute telephone consultation.


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