Promise dispute, solved

October 16, 2023

Reports have been circling regarding the case of Spencer vs Spencer.

A proprietary estoppel claim put in by the son against his late father John Spencer. In John’s original will the family farm had been left to Michael, however a later will made by John left the farm in trust.

The case has concluded with Michael (the son) being awarded the farmland he was once promised by his father.


Martin Holdsworth comments:

“Farming disputes that follow a death of a Patriarch or Matriarch are as common as they are difficult to resolve for all concerned. It is my experience that farmers view themselves as the custodians of the land they farm – they do not see the land as an asset (apart from invariably that one field that might one day get planning for a large housing estate and therefore worth £millions!). Disposing of land seems unthinkable to them and so planning for what to do with it after death is something they invariably merge into thoughts over who the next custodian will be.

That leads to promises rather than actions – paperwork seldom follows. Those promised – invariably child(ren) working on the farm nearly always believe that their rewards will come in due course – a formal handing over of the custodian’s interests. But working on a farm is still hard and many don’t want that life. Those that do must commit to long hours, hard labour and little financial return with little room for much else. Rarely is that done without a belief that the farm will be passed to them in due course. Disputes arise as the belief is seldom documented, wills often changed, and siblings are upset that their share can only come if the farm is sold (which is exactly what no farmer wants to happen. It is no surprise that every farming family comes to the point where the next generation has to decide as a group what should happen to the farm – continue the custodianship (to the incumbent farming child and ultimately to theirs and so on) or to sell and thereby throw the said child out of the farm with no other life imagined. I don’t see disputes going away anytime soon … “