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Proprietary estoppel and equitable claims

Whether you’re looking to enforce a broken promise (proprietary estoppel), are involved in a dispute about the true ownership of your home or need to recover assets that belong to you, we can help.

Our proprietary estoppel and equitable claim experience includes:

  • claims to enforce broken promises;
  • claims to enforce unwritten agreements and contracts;
  • claims over farm and agricultural land;
  • claims to recover property and assets (resulting trust claims);
  • claims over land, including claims under the Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996 (‘TOLATA claims’);
  • disputes over family homes (constructive trust and “Stack v Dowden” claims);
  • other equitable claims; and
  • claims to set aside lifetime transfers by reason of lack of capacity or undue influence.

We offer a free, no-obligation initial consultation as well as flexible pricing options, tailored to your needs. Contact us for further information.

What is proprietary estoppel?

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; and
  • loss suffered by the person when the promise is broken, known as “detriment”.

What constitutes each of these 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 going to trial.

We represented the successful claimant in the highly publicised case of Davies & Another v Davies [2016] EWCA Civ 463 involving farmland estimated to be worth approximately £7.5m.

We offer a free, no-obligation initial consultation as well as flexible pricing options, tailored to your needs. Contact us for further information.

What is an equitable claim?

Equity, literally meaning fairness or justness, arose as a legal concept in England and Wales in response to a need to achieve a remedy in cases for which there was no set law, for instance, where parties had entered into an agreement not covered by a written contract.

A claim in equity – an equitable claim – is therefore any claim where there is no set remedy i.e. by reference to a contract, deed or legislation. It therefore includes claims to enforce broken promises (proprietary estoppel), claims to recover assets wrongfully held by a third party (resulting trust claims) or claims for a share in property or an asset where there has been some prior agreement, for instance through a course of dealings over a number of years (constructive trusts).

What is a resulting trust?

A resulting trust is a legal relationship in which one person, known as a resulting trustee, is the legal owner of an asset but on behalf of another person. For example if a parent lends their child money to buy a house without a written agreement, the child holds the house, or a share of it, on “resulting trust” for the parent. If, when asked, the child then refuses to give the parent their share, the parent is able to bring a resulting trust claim to seek their share.

Our team of specialist solicitors has significant experience in dealing with resulting trust claims and have a proven track record in recovering property for people.

What is a constructive trust?

A constructive trust is where one or more people have been wrongfully deprived of their property or assets. This can be when another person has wrongfully or unfairly received assets, known as “unjust enrichment”, or, for instance, where the common intention between two or more parties is not reflected by the legal ownership of an asset. That is particularly common in the context of the family home.

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, for instance, if a couple buy a home together and one of them spends a significant amount of time and money in renovating the house. That person may be able to claim an increased share of the home in the event of a separation.

See our blog on a case involving a dispute over the family home.

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

How quickly can my proprietary estoppel or equitable claim be dealt with?

Each case is unique and so how quickly your case might be resolved depends on the particular circumstances. However, with one of the largest teams in the UK, with over 50 years’ experience and with recognised leaders in the field, we pride ourselves on being able to resolve your claim as quickly as possible.

We offer a free, no-obligation initial consultation as well as flexible pricing options, tailored to your needs. Contact us for further information.

Are there time limits for proprietary estoppel or equitable claims?

In most cases there is no strict time limit. However, in cases where there has been a significant delay or where a person has admitted to any potential wrongdoing this can be raised as a defence to a proprietary estoppel or equitable claim. As such, the key is to act fast.

With a dedicated team specialising in proprietary estoppel and equitable claims we are able to act quickly.

Is my proprietary estoppel or equitable claim suitable for mediation?

Mediation is a form of dispute resolution in which an independent person, known as a mediator, works with the parties to try to negotiate a settlement. Mediations are usually carried out on a ‘without prejudice’ basis so that anything discussed at mediation cannot disclosed to the court.

The usual format involves each “side” having their own, private room. The mediator’s job is to work with the lawyers to try to achieve a positive settlement for all parties.

Although not suitable for every case, mediations do have a high success rate of settlement. Our experience and knowledge means that we have secured excellent results for our clients at mediation.

Key Contact

Roman Kubiak is a partner and head of the market leading Contested Wills, Trusts and Estates team.

He advises across the whole spectrum of private wealth disputes, with a particular focus on high value, complex and cross-border disputes including: trust disputes, breach of trust claims and applications to remove trustees; will disputes, particularly those with an international element; claims under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975; and claims for equitable relief under proprietary estoppel, constructive trusts and resulting trusts.

Case studies

Matthew Evans acted for Eirian Davies, the successful claimant in the case of Davies & Another v Davies [2016] EWCA Civ 463, a proprietary estoppel claim in relation to a family farming business.

The case was widely reported in both the legal and national press, often being referred to as the “Cowshed Cinderella” case.

Eirian had spent most of her life working on the family farm for little pay in reliance upon promises made to her by her parents that she would receive the farm or a significant share of it.

Following a dispute between Eirian and her parents, her parents sought to remove Eirian from the farm and issued possession proceedings. We defended those and counterclaimed on the basis of a proprietary estoppel in Eirian’s favour.

At the Court of Appeal Eirian was awarded £500,000.

We acted for the defendant’s 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 his uncle’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.

Despite the claimant’s best efforts to try to sabotage the claim, we were successful in defending numerous applications.

At mediation, we were able to recover £200,000 and provide much needed closure for our client.

We acted for a member of a farming family who had been promised land by his father and two uncles in exchange for farming the land for his whole adult life. His father and one of his uncles upheld their promises but another uncle later changed his will gifting his share of the farmland to his young wife.

This effectively made the remaining land unusable.

Despite attempts to settle the wife and her legal team refused to engage in negotiations and so we pursued the matter to trial where our client was awarded the entire land as well as his legal costs.

Roman Kubiak acted for a client who, during a period of extreme vulnerability and mental frailty, had been coerced by her grandson to transfer a property into his name for free.

Hugh James were instructed on behalf of the grandmother to pursue the grandson for payment. We were successful in asserting that the property was held on a resulting trust for our client such that it should either immediately be returned to our client or that our client should receive a commensurate payment to reflect its value.

Following negotiations we were successful in securing a lump sum payment for the grandmother in consideration of the property.

Hugh James successfully pursued a resulting trust argument for a client over assets held by her partner’s estate. Our client had provided her partner with funds to renovate his property in preparation for sale, on the understanding that they would both sell their respective properties and use their combined proceeds to purchase their own jointly held property. Our client’s partner tragically passed away unexpectedly without leaving a will or any declaration of trust in respect of the property and so his estate passed on intestacy.

We successfully argued that the funds provided by our client to her partner were held on resulting trust by the estate. As such, and without the need to issue court proceedings, these funds were returned to our client.

Your questions answered

Yes. We offer a free 20 minute telephone consultation.

In many cases we’re able to offer a range of flexible pricing options including “no win, no fee” agreements, fixed fees and deferred payment arrangements depending on each case.

Some cases may also be suitable for “After the Event” insurance funding which provide cover for the cost of disbursements such as court and expert fees as well as protecting you from any potential adverse costs order.

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