Documentation key to settling farming businesses disputes - Irwin Mitchell Private Wealth

11/09/2018 News Team

In a farming dispute tackled in court, Judge Eyre QC ruled in High Court that a £1.65 million farm and bungalow are to be included in the deceased’s estate and not part of a farming business.

The deceased, Ben Wild, died in 2003 and the farming partnership continued between the two brothers, Malcolm and Gregory Wild, until 2016 when relations broke down. 

Claimant Gregory Wild believed that the farm and bungalow were part of the farming partnership, and therefore subject to the partnership’s winding-down proceedings. However, defendants Malcolm Wild, his wife Abigail and his mother Jean argued the farm and bungalow had passed to Jean as specified in their father’s will.

Malcolm and Abigail had also invested significantly in the bungalow’s renovation, which during the case was valued at £285,000. Another point of contention was how much of the renovation’s budget had come from the farming partnership, which Gregory argued was a majority.

The partnership’s accounts and mentions of the farm and bungalow were incomplete as records had been lost or never recorded, which led to the dispute.

Will dispute specialists at Irwin Mitchell Private Wealth have highlighted the importance of keeping up to date documentation for farming businesses, particularly if a family member expects to inherit it.

Heather Roberts, an associate in the UK law firm's will, trust and estate disputes team, said: “It was a good outcome for the defendants as the judge ruled the farm and bungalow were indeed belonging to their mother and that they had a proprietary estoppel claim against the bungalow, which has been their home for decades. However, the dispute could have been avoided had the family made sure that all assets were clearly accounted for either in a will or a formal partnership agreement decades earlier.

“The Wild brothers’ relationship had deteriorated significantly over the years, even coming to blows in the past as mentioned in the judgment. It is likely the stress and cost – both emotional and monetary - of the will dispute that has taken years to resolve soured relations even further.

“Other families that have a family business and have an understanding that it may pass to them upon the death of their parents should look into drawing up a formal agreement to avoid this situation – the more complex a structure, the lengthier and more costly the dispute could be.”

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