We are often asked, ‘What is estoppel?’, especially in the context of an inheritance dispute or contested Will claim. Solicitor Lee Dawkins provides the answers.
The calls we receive to our free legal helpline cover a huge variety of legal topics. Some questions reoccur on a regular basis, so from time to time we cover the more important subjects in these blogs
One particular repeat enquiry we receive concerns the doctrine of ‘estoppel’, particularly in relation to contested probate and inheritance claims. But what is estoppel?
Put simply, estoppel is a legal concept which can be relied upon when someone tries to go back on their word. The doctrine is used to prevent a party from arguing something contrary to what they have previously done or said.
English law has a number of different types of estoppel. Two of the most common forms are ‘proprietary estoppel’ and ‘promissory estoppel’. The two have broad similarities, but there are also important distinctions, the detail of which go beyond the scope of this blog.
This is the type we deal with most often and it is becoming increasingly common in the contested probate cases we encounter.
These claims have three fundamental ingredients.
First, there needs to be a representation or assurance given to the Claimant.
Second, there must be reliance on it by the Claimant.
Third, detriment must be suffered by the Claimant as a result which should be of a nature where it would be ‘unconscionable’ to go back on the promise or assurance given.
An example of this in a probate claim is where someone has been assured that they will one day be left a property and on the basis of that assurance they work hard, for many years in some instances, repairing, maintaining and improving the property, only to find that the promise has not been honoured and they have received nothing in the owner’s Will.
It is particularly common for cases to arise in farming families where a son or daughter works on the family farm on the understanding that they will one day inherit, but then discovers they have been overlooked in the Will. Proprietary estoppel can be a very useful principle for the claimant to rely on in these situations.
The conduct giving rise to the estoppel can also take different forms and can include estoppel by acquiescence, by representation and by promise.
Another legal concept closely associated with Proprietary estoppel is the constructive trust. Constructive trusts also arise frequently in contested probate claims where there has been a common intention or bargain between the parties (often the claimant and the deceased) where, like estoppel, there has been detrimental reliance and an unconscionable denial of rights.
If you have lost out because a promise has not been honoured and would like to know where you stand then call our FREE LEGAL HELPLINE on 0333 888 0404 or send us an email.