Eirian Davies had worked on her parents’ farm all her adult life, initially for no pay, and then for less pay than the going-rate. Eirian’s parents had promised that she would inherit the £3.8 million farm and become a partner in its successful dairy business after their death.
However, after 30 years of toil, Eirian and her parents fell out and Eirian was evicted from the farm. Eirian’s parents stated that they would put the farm into trust for the benefit of Eirian and her two sisters, who had not worked on the farm, instead of it all going to Eirian as they had promised.
The question of why Eirian would rely on a verbal promise and not insist upon a written contract setting out her entitlements in return for her work is answered by the fact that the promises were made within the family context. It is very natural to trust in a family member’s promises.
This case is important because, whilst we are not all expecting to receive a multi-million pound dairy business from our parents, it is not uncommon for verbal promises to be made by family members which are later altered, changed and sometimes even broken. In such cases, where someone has relied upon a promise and acted to their detriment upon that promise, the law may step in to redress the wrong.
Eirian brought her claim to court and was successful not only because she convinced the court that her parents had broken their promises to her, but importantly that she was now in a worse position because she had relied upon their promises.
She explained how she had given up employment elsewhere, which had paid a full salary, in order to work on the farm for low pay.
Eirian also told the court how she had given up social and leisure activities to devote herself to the farm. Whilst Eirian’s two sisters tripped off to Young Farmer’s Club dances and enjoyed themselves, Eirian was expected to stay at the farm and work. Eirian’s father had warned her not to 'kill the goose that lays the golden egg' if she complained about her low pay and long hours.
The court considered Eirian’s parents’ arguments and took note of their hard work in the farming business too. On this basis, the court directed that Eirian should receive a proportion, but not all of the value of the farm and the dairy business. The court had a wide discretion in deciding the sum Eirian should receive, and made an award of £1.3 million.
If you believe that you have relied upon a promise and lost out as a result, you will need individual advice in this highly specialist area. We are experienced in advising in this field, whether a promise has been made during someone’s lifetime, in a Will or in the context of divorce.
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