“Cowshed Cinderella” gets her reward via Proprietary Estoppel

Last week the papers broke with the news that 45 year old Eirian Davies had won her claim against her parents for a share of the family farm. Miss Davies, who is one of three daughters of Tegwyn and Mary Davies, worked on the farm from a young age. The media have dubbed her as the “Cowshed Cinderella” as it is believed that she would stay at home to carry out chores on the farm while her sisters went out to social events. One paper describes how her sisters once paraded through the poultry shed in ball gowns while she prepared the Christmas turkeys. Her parents promised that she would inherit the whole of the farm in due course. In light of this, Miss Davies received little or no payment for her hard work on the farm. Her sisters never had any interest in the farm and left the family home in pursuit of alternative careers in 1989.

Miss Davies made a claim under the doctrine of Proprietary Estoppel for her rightful share in the farm after it became clear that her parents had not made arrangements to hand the whole of the farm, or the majority of the farm, to her. To be successful under such a claim a claimant must show that the defendant made promises or assurances to the claimant, upon which the claimant relied and consequently acted to her detriment. The claimant must also have been encouraged in her incorrect belief.

In March 1998, Miss Davies’ parents told her that she would have a long term future at the farm. She was led to believe that she was a partner in the farming business and she relied on this by working on the farm and then moving into live at the farmhouse. She did leave the farm in 2001 for a short period when she discovered that she was not in fact a partner but she returned after assurances from her father that she would have a rent-free home for life at the farmhouse. Miss Davies was led to believe that she would become a shareholder in the farming business and she continued to work on the farm in this belief. Her parents continued to encourage Miss Davies in her belief that she would be a partner in the business and would inherit the majority of the farm upon their death, but they failed to make any legal arrangements in this regard. In 2012 a family argument broke out after which Miss Davies decided to begin legal action against her parents.

On the above facts the court found that there had been a promise upon which Miss Davies had relied. Miss Davies clearly acted to her detriment in that she worked for over 20 years on the farm for little or no pay. She did not follow alternative career options like her sisters and she did not take any proper paid employment during the time that she worked on the farm. The Judge concluded that a lump sum of £1.3 million should be awarded to Miss Davies to compensate her for her detriment, which is the equivalent of a third share in the farm and business. It is interesting to note that the court awarded Miss Davies a third share which is less than was originally promised by the parents. However, she is getting it now rather than having to wait until her parent’s death. In making this decision the judge took into account the fact that the parents had owned the farm originally, are still actively involved in the farm and had contributed considerably to the success of the business.

This is the latest in a long line of proprietary estoppel cases which is an interesting area of law seeking to achieve justice where no formal legal arrangements have been made. This particular case has caught the headlines due to the interesting circumstances and the fact that the farm was a very successful dairy business. It is a clear example of where the doctrine of proprietary estoppel can assist.

Myerson Solicitors LLP provide specialist advice relating to wills, probate, probate disputes, inheritance tax planning and powers of attorney to clients in Manchester and Cheshire.

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