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The tale of the “Cowshed Cinderella”

19 Jun 2016

The “Cowshed Cinderella” case has been back before the Courts.

This case involved Miss Davies who spent 30 years of her life working on her parents’ successful farm for little or no payment on the understanding that she would receive the entire business one day.

She had two sisters neither of whom had been involved in the business. Miss Davies was dubbed the “Cowshed Cinderella” after she described how her sisters had paraded through the poultry shed in ball gowns whilst she prepared the Christmas turkeys!

In 2008, Miss Davies’ parents agreed to hand over 49% of the business to her. Documents were prepared but never signed. Instead, Miss Davies’ parents agreed to draft Wills which would give her the land and buildings and a share in the company.

Shortly after, a family rift developed. Miss Davies’ parents decided to put the farm into a trust to be split equally between all 3 daughters. The family fallout continued and Miss Davies left the farm in 2012. She then sued to establish her interest in the business which was valued at £3.8million, claiming proprietary estoppel.

The High Court Judge allowed her claim. Miss Davies’ parents appealed but this was rejected. The Court of Appeal invited Miss Davies and her parents to agree a settlement but this proved impossible. Therefore in February 2015, Miss Davies went back to the High Court and was awarded £1.3million as compensation.

However, the story did not end there. Miss Davies’ parents appealed against the decision and a few weeks ago the Court of Appeal reduced the amount which Miss Davies was to receive to £500,000. The Court did not explain how it came to this amount but the Judge did say there is a delicate balancing act as between offering compensation for past expectations and the changes in the value of money since those expectations were created.

This is a salutary tale. For years, the family have been fighting over the farm. The cost of pursuing and then fighting the claim will be high but more worryingly the family relationships are no doubt irreconcilable.

So what lessons can we learn from this case?

  • Don’t make promises you cannot keep – by making promises you may be granting someone an interest in your estate if that person acts to their detriment in reliance upon it.
  • If promises are made to you – these may be empty and although the court may intervene if you do not inherit what you were promised, you must remember each case turns on its facts and being awarded an interest is not a given right.

This is a complicated area of law and you should seek advice from a solicitor and allow them to explain the possible consequences of any promise you may have made, or received. If necessary, a viable agreement could potentially be sought to pre-empt the possible future need for costly proceedings.

Ultimately one must have in mind: don’t make promises you may not want to keep in future.

For further information, please contact Alison Hall, Partner at Hay & Kilner

Call: 0191 232 8345 / Email: Alison.Hall@hay-kilner.co.uk