No Will & Wrong People May Inherit your Estate

Eirian Humphreys

Author: Eirian Humphreys, Director.

In the course of my work I am constantly coming across people who have not yet made a Will and who don’t realise the consequences of such an omission.

This recent legal case shows how important it is to make a Will. Two brothers, Matthew and James had for decades been working on a farm in Harrogate which consisted of 50 acres of grazing land, a farmhouse and various barns and outbuildings with a total value of around £600k.  The farm owner, Tony Sowray, had promised that upon his death the farm land would be Matthew’s, and a plot on which James had already built a log cabin for himself would be his. The farm house was to go to the owner’s daughter.

Matthew was heavily involved in the farm and as a result of Tony’s assurances he undertook all of the farm work. James had a separate agreement with Tony whereby he would give Tony his Jeep in exchange for a plot of land which he would receive on Tony’s death.

Tony’s assurances that everything was in order and installed a log cabin on the plot and carried out significant work to make the plot his home. None of these agreements were made in writing.

In the later years of Tony’s life, was reconciled with his estranged daughter Claire, and made clear to Matthew his intention to leave the farmhouse to her. From then on, Matthew understood that the farmhouse would be left to Claire, the rest of the land to him and the plot to James.

Although the owner had promised the brothers that his affairs were in order, on his passing in 2017 it was found that he had died intestate.  Under intestacy law, his entire estate automatically passed to his daughter.

However, Matthew and James argued that Tony had made his promises to them before he was reconciled with Claire, and that their livelihoods were entirely reliant on those promises. Tony was therefore not entitled or free to go back on the promises he had made.

Expert Will, Trust and Estate Dispute lawyers were instructed by Matthew and James to work on the case, and were handed down a successful judgement on the 15 April following a hearing at the High Court in March 2020.

Although the brothers were successful in their claim, the case was lengthy and costly and many witnesses had to give evidence about the brothers working on the land and the promises that were made to them over many years.

In the absence of a will, a judge must look at all the facts and the evidence provided by witnesses and may make findings of fact based on how he perceives the witnesses.  Outcomes are determined on a case-by-case basis. There are no guarantees whatsoever.

It is vital to have your estate planning in order to avoid situations like this.  This is especially so in the farming community, where the value of the estate can be high and the future livelihoods of individuals can be destroyed by the absence of a Will.

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For help with writing a will and other probate matters, please contact our specialists at LHP by emailing and ringing 01267 237534.


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