Making a verbal family agreement over the distribution of one’s estate and then trusting that everything will be sorted out amicably by the family shows a very considerable degree of optimism, as a recent case illustrates.

It involved yet another family feud which led to a court appearance because verbal promises given by a farmer father to his son were not made good by the creation of the appropriate documentation.

In the 1970s, the farmer had asked his then 17-year-old son to abandon his ambition to become a policeman in order to help run the family farm. This he did, and he continued to farm the land for 13 years after his father died in 1999.

When his father died, the terms of his will were not made fully known to the family, but it provided that, on the death of his widow, the farm should be able to be farmed by the son until age 60 and then sold with the proceeds divided among the couple’s children.

When he reached his 60th birthday, the terms of the will were revealed and the dispute commenced.

The son who had remained on the farm claimed that his father had promised that he would inherit it, and he had worked for more than 20 years on very low wages based on that promise.

The family denied that any such promise had been made and the end result was a four-day court hearing involving accusations and counter-accusations.

The court eventually ruled in favour of the farmer son, awarding him the farm and ordering the other family members to pay his legal expenses of more than £60,000. However, the possibility of an appeal cannot be discounted.

There are several steps you can take to make it less likely that the division of your estate will be contested. These include having a clear will and, if possible, making sure that those who have expectations of an inheritance and your executors are aware of its contents. If you wish to make any variation to your arrangements, these should be evidenced properly.


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