What is a Proprietary Estoppel claim?
A proprietary estoppel claim is a claim made under the Equitable Doctrine of Proprietary Estoppel in respect of ownership of property. This type of claim usually arises where property has been promised to another but without any written evidentiary proof.
The usual rule is that for land to be transferred to another party then it must comply with the Law of Property (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1989. This provides that any document must be in writing and must be witnessed as a deed for the ownership of property to be transferred. As this is not always the case, especially where families are involved, the rule of equity steps in to prevent an inequitable outcome from being reached.
The doctrine of proprietary estoppel is typically used where Party B, seeks to assert a right to land belonging to another party (Party A) in circumstances where Party B has been led to believe by a promise, words, conduct or acquiescence from Party A that they have or can expect to acquire an interest in the land.
There are four elements to establish an equity for propriety estoppel:
Rochford v Rochford  WTLR 951
Adult child claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975
On 21 and 22 January 2021 I was involved in a two-day virtual trial before Recorder Williamson QC. I acted on behalf of the Claimant in bringing a claim against the estate of her late father under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. James McKean of New Square Chambers acted as the barrister. Although only in the county court and not a substantial claim or estate, the claim is important as very few adult child claims under the Act go to trial. Usually, such claims are settled long before trial, either by negotiation or some form of Alternative Dispute Resolution (mediation especially), the risks of proceeding to trial on such claims and having to pay your opponent’s costs are usually enough to encourage parties to settle the claim.
For many years now, contentious probate solicitors have been discussing the reasons for the rising number of inheritance disputes.
From recession in the early 2000s to Brexit and COVID-19, each economic lurch has heralded pronouncements about an increase in the amount of contentious probate work being seen by probate specialists. However, the history of the world, the universe and everything tells us that the more we know, the more we are empowered and it is hard to ignore the rise of the internet for an increased interest in litigating when things get tough.
Families are funny things, and sometimes not "ha ha" funny either. In today's society, with divorce and remarriage a common prospect for many, the state of being a second family, step-family or other familial configuration is commonplace. And while it's certainly a good thing that these family forms are no longer vilified and stigmatised as much or as often they used to be, relationships that have ended can often cause lifelong issues and disputes.
It has become something of a phenomenon in recent times; the prevalence of the inheritance dispute.
During times of economic difficulty, every penny does count and it seems that the act of inheritance is now, more than ever, a source of funds that is expected, coveted, and depended upon. But when even modest estates are wrangled over as if the parties are fighting for billions, is there an increasing duty upon the Will writer to ensure that the wishes of the testator are not going to cause a dispute? Is this possible or even ethical?