A case earlier this summer (2021) has highlighted the importance of succession planning to avoid family dispute.
A little background
Hughes v Pritchard  EWHC 1580 (Ch) concerned a family farm in Wales. Mr Hughes owned the farm. He had three children; a son called Elfed, another son called Gareth and his daughter Carys. Elfed worked long hours on the farm for no payment, and Mr Hughes promised Elfed, his wife Gwen and their three sons that one day the farm would be theirs.
Mr Hughes made a will giving the farm to Elfed, but in 2015 Elfed committed suicide. In 2016, Mr Hughes made a will which left 58 acres of farmland to his second son, Gareth.
Elfed’s widow Gwen and his eldest son claimed that the 2016 will was invalid on the grounds of a lack of mental capacity, and also argued that due to the previous promises made by Mr Hughes they were entitled to the farmland.
Will invalid for lack of mental capacity
The Court determined that the 2016 will was invalid for lack of mental capacity as, amongst other things, Mr Hughes did not have capacity to recall the understanding that he had previously reached with Elfed and his family.
Working long hours for no pay
Further, the Court also held that even if the 2016 will had been valid, the promises made by Mr Hughes to Elfed and his family were such that the farmland would have passed into Elfed’s estate and not to Gareth. The Judge was satisfied that Mr Hughes had made a clear promise to Elfed and his family. In reliance on that promise, Elfed worked long hours for no pay. Detriment was suffered when the 58 acres were left to somebody else. The test for proprietary estoppel – which is the legal name for enforcing a promise of this nature - had therefore been met.
The importance of succession planning
This case shows the importance of succession planning and the need to think carefully if circumstances change – as they did when Elfed died. Any promises made to family members should be carefully made, and in the event that there are any significant changes to either the nature of the estate or the family, expert advice should be obtained to ensure that your affairs remain up to date.