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An Introduction To Farming Disputes

Posted: Wednesday, 7 February 2024 @ 16:46

Why Are Farming Disputes On the Rise?

  • Increased press coverage,
  • the ageing population and
  • significant increase in value of farm land.

The farming arena is vulnerable to such claims due to the informal nature of children being involved in working on a family farm, relaxed legal arrangements, and the traditional expectations of parents  and their children  as to ‘who will inherit the farm when I’m gone’.

What kind of Farming Problems Arise?

It can be a dispute over anything connected with the farm.

In an inheritance situation, ownership disputes often relate to disputed land and monies. It can be over the Executor not having treated the beneficiaries fairly. Also a dispute can arise from someone disappointed by their inheritance, to bring what is known as a Proprietary Estoppel claim.

A Proprietary Estoppel claim means a person alleges that the Deceased made promises, maybe a long time ago that they would inherit the farm outright, on their parent’s death and claim and  they relied on that promise to their financial loss.

The loss may take the form of, for example, lack of accommodation, previously given on the farm, on the death of their parent, having left all or the majority of the farm to other family members.

In a Proprietary Estoppel Case what Can a Court Do?

The Court has a very wide choice. Once a finding of proprietary estoppel has been made, the court has a lot of discretion as to what to do The court may make an order giving effect to the claimant’s expectation or it could compensate the claimant for the detriment that they have been found to have suffered. 

What Can a Farm Owner Do to try to avoid a Dispute?

In a case like this prevention is really better than cure:

  • Make a Will - the owner of the farm should clearly document his or her testamentary wishes for the farm and it is advisable that this be supported by a letter of wishes setting out the reasons why he or she has chosen to benefit a particular person or persons/not provide for someone.

  • Communicate well: owners should be encouraged to discuss success planning and their intentions with their close family (and other applicable parties) and not make promises that they cannot keep. 
  • Have good written evidence.
  • Have honest and transparent discussions with key family members and potentially business partners, after taking professional advice to seek to avoid such problems and potential disputes in future years.

And If the Stable Door Has Bolted...? (Pardon the Pun)

Whether you making or defending is best to pause for breathe and consider the following:

  • Take Some Advice
  • Evaluate your legal and negotiation position carefully
  • Set Our Your Position Calmly and Make Sure That You Evidence Have Things Backed Up
  • If you can try to deal a deal, or negotiate/marshal your case effectively if the other side (and their lawyers are being unreasonable)