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Promises that are freely made and relied upon have the force of contract and can be enforced in court. Exactly that happened in one case in which a son was repeatedly assured by his father that he would inherit the £10 million family farm and worked long hours, for low pay, in the belief that the promises would be honoured.
The father had several times told his son that the farm would one day be his. On the strength of his father’s word, the son threw himself into working on the 650-acre farm from an early age. He took no expensive holidays, lived a frugal lifestyle with his family in a bungalow on the farm and earned less than £300 a week.
The father, by then stricken by Alzheimer’s disease, had made a change to his will, disinheriting his son of the farm. However, the High Court found that the latter had truly believed, and had been encouraged to believe by his father, that he would inherit the farm in the fullness of time. In reliance on his father’s promises, he had acted to his detriment in devoting his entire working life to the farm for meagre financial rewards.
The Court ordered that the farming partnership between father and son be dissolved because of the former’s ill health. The father’s share of the farm and the farming business were transferred to the son, although his parents were entitled to live in the farmhouse, and to draw an income from the business, for so long as they needed to do so. The Court noted that that outcome would enable the land to be farmed by the next generation of the family as the father had always intended.