Irwin Mitchell | Focus on Wills, Trust, Estates and Disputes | Rise In Will Disputes In Agriculture Sector

Land Worth Millions Of Pounds Locked In Battles Over Challenged Wills

Agricultural land worth millions of pounds is being disputed across the country because the significant rise in land values over the past decade has led to an increase in the number of disputes over wills and inheritance in industry.

Irwin Mitchell’s specialist wills disputes team warns that estates, businesses and land worth millions of pounds are being unnecessarily tied up in bitter family feuds because of a lack of valid wills in the sector.

Statistics released by DEFRA in June this year also revealed that only around a third (37%) of farm businesses had a nominated successor.

Claims in the agricultural sector often arise where children have worked for a small wage on the farm property for a number of years on the understanding that they will inherit the land and business on the death of their parent – only to find out that the intestacy rules or the wording of a Will often cut them out of the estate. Often it is the eldest child who benefits at the expense of younger children. Sometimes situations are also complicated when people have had more than one marriage and may have children by more than one partner.

The diversification away from pure farming can also make disputes more complicated with resolutions often including selling off some of the farming assets such as workers’ cottages or converting barns while properties are often swapped around between siblings too.

Julia Burns, a specialist Will, Trust and Estate Dispute lawyer at Irwin Mitchell explains, ”Because of the nature of the work, most farming estates involve a great deal of land which can mean the estates are of high value. As well as land there can also be issues relating to agricultural tenancies, grazing licences, milk quotas and single farm payments making these cases complex to resolve. There is often a lack of cash in the farmer’s estate, which often makes cases harder to resolve as settlements tend to involve land transfers and farmers are always very reluctant to part with land.”

“Farmers frequently want to keep the estate, including both the land and the farming business, in the family but we are finding that many people are not making valid wills which means that once they die their estate follows the intestacy rules and may not pass to those who they intended it to."

A recent Court of Appeal case highlighted some of the common issues that farm owners face and Irwin Mitchell say it acts as a reminder to the industry to ensure they seek appropriate legal advice regarding wills and inheritance.

Davies v Davies relates to a daughter who worked on her family’s farm in Carmarthenshire for little or no wage for several years. Her parents regularly told her that she would inherit the farm and she was shown a draft will which stated she would inherit a majority stake.

However, the draft wills were amended after a disagreement which meant that she would only inherit an equal share with her sisters. The parents brought a claim against their daughter to evict her from the farmhouse, while the daughter claimed an interest in the farm which was based on her reliance on the promises made by her parents.

Julia Burns said: “Broken promises and disappointed beneficiaries are not uncommon in the farming world. In our experience, these cases cause major family rifts and can also have a financial impact on the viability of a farm.

“Normally these claims arise if a person has died and a claim can be made in two scenarios. The first would be if a promise is made which a potential beneficiary then relies on to their detriment. For example, accepting a low wage in the expectation of inheritance at a later date."

If you would like to discuss any of the issues raised or would like more advice about challenging a will please contact Julia Burns on 0113 2186413 or email julia.burns@irwinmitchell.com

Key Contact

Julia Burns