When it comes to inheritance, the obligation to keep your promises may well be legal as well as moral. In a case on point reviewed by Guy Platon, a judge followed the demands of conscience in ruling that a hard-working man should inherit the farmland of a close friend who for many years treated him as a son.
When the friend died without making a will, the land passed automatically to his next of kin, his only daughter. The man launched proceedings on the basis that that outcome was unconscionable in that the friend had repeatedly assured him that, when he died, the land would be bequeathed to him.
Upholding his claim, the High Court found that the friend had on more than one occasion clearly represented to him that the land would one day be his. In reliance on those assurances, he had worked hard on the land for about 20 hours a week for more than 20 years. The relationship between them was clearly a special one, akin to father and son, and he had trusted the friend to keep his word.
Whilst she would retain the farmhouse, the daughter was ordered to transfer to the man the farmland and outbuildings, which were worth about £330,000. The Court also upheld a claim by the man’s brother in respect of a small plot of land on which he had placed a log cabin as his family home. He too had acted to his detriment in reliance on the friend’s assurances that the plot would be transferred to him.
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