Equitable claims and, specifically, claims by reason of proprietary estoppel, a resulting trust or a constructive trust can seem confusing.  However, our specialist team of lawyers have a wealth of experience in dealing with these claims and a proven track record in recovering assets for clients on the basis of promises made and broken, time and money invested and unwritten agreements.

How Hugh James can help

Our team of lawyers has a proven track record in successfully bringing and defending claims to recover property, including farmland, cash and other assets by reason of proprietary estoppel, a resulting trust or a constructive trust.

Key contact

Roman Kubiak is a Partner and head of the Contested Wills, Trusts and Estates Department at Hugh James. He joined Hugh James in 2012, having previously worked at a top 200 law firm, specialising in inheritance and trust disputes. Roman advises individuals, high street banks, trust companies and professionals in relation to contested will, trust and estate disputes.

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Hugh James successfully argue proprietary estoppel at Court of Appeal

Wiljo Salen represented the successful party in the case of Davies & Another v Davies [2014] EWCA Civ 568A, a proprietary estoppel claim in relation to a farming business thought to be worth approximately £10m.

Both parties who are alleged to have made the promises that were relied upon denied making them. Instead, they alleged that our client was only ever an employee of the business or a contractor for the business and was never expressly promised any benefit beyond remuneration for work undertaken.

Possession proceedings were instigated in relation to the farmland and our client counterclaimed on the basis of a proprietary estoppel having arisen.  A first instance trial of preliminary issues was heard in summer 2013 with the resulting judgment making significant positive findings of fact in our client’s favour which were sufficient to give rise to an estoppel.  The counter-claim defendants appealed but the first instance decision was upheld by the Court of Appeal.

Man who farmed uncle’s land for over 25 years for no pay receives £200,000

We acted for the defendant nephew who asserted that he had been promised his uncle’s estate, largely comprising farmland, for over 25 years and that, in reliance upon those promises, he had dedicated his life to working on the farm for no income. The nephew also disputed the will on the basis of the testator’s lack of capacity and lack of knowledge and approval.

Our client had suffered a series of strokes making communication very difficult at times and the urgent need to obtain a very detailed statement of events.

There were also numerous interim applications to contend including a default judgment application and an application to treat a directions hearing as a costs case management conference which was successfully defended by Hugh James. At mediation, Hugh James were able to recover £200,000 and provide much needed closure for the nephew.

Proprietary estoppel claims

Proprietary estoppel is a legal remedy to enforce a broken promise. To prove proprietary estoppel you must show four things:

  • a promise made by one person to another;
  • reliance upon the promise;
  • detriment suffered by the person in reliance upon the promise; and
  • encouragement by the person making the promise.

What constitutes each of the four factors depends very much on the individual circumstances of the case. For example, a promise in a commercial transaction may need to be evidenced by a written contract, whereas a promise between two people in relation to the farming of land may be by words alone.

We have a proven track record in dealing with proprietary estoppel cases both without court proceedings and to trial.  Many of our cases involved agricultural disputes and promises made in respect of farmland.  For example, we represented the successful claimant in the highly publicised case of Davies & Another v Davies [2014] EWCA Civ 568 involving farmland worth approximately £7.5m.

Resulting trust claims

A resulting trust is where property is held by one person legally, though, in reality, it belongs to another. For example if Anne provides money for a house purchase in Bob’s name and Bob then decides to keep the house what can Anne do?

Our team of specialist solicitors have significant experience in dealing with resulting trust claims and have a proven track record in recovering property for people who have found themselves in this situation or similar.

Constructive trust claims

A constructive trust can be imposed where a party has been wrongfully deprived of their property or assets. A situation like this could develop due to the unjust enrichment or interference of a third party. Unjust enrichment can occur in a number of situations, for instance if one person has received property belonging to another for which they have not paid anything.

A constructive trust can arise independently of the parties’ intentions. For instance if Alan purchases a home in which he and his wife, Barbara, live together and Barbara spends a significant amount of time and money in renovating the house, what happens if they break up?

Although the house may be in Alan’s name, it is possible that Barbara has an interest in the property in ‘equity’ on the basis of her contributions.

Our solicitors can advise you on your case whether you are looking to bring or defend a constructive trust claim.

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