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Cohabitee Victory using Proprietary Estoppel

A recent case in Northern Ireland has seen a cohabitee bring a successful claim a g a inst the estate of her d e c e a s e d partner. Miss Mulholland began living with the deceased when she was just 16. She continued to live with him for nearly 30 years until his death in 2004. The deceased owned a 490 acre farm in Antrim which valued his estate at £800,000. Miss Mulholland had worked on the farm in the evenings and at weekends, helping the deceased with lambing and other tasks. Seamus Kane died on 19 March 2004 without making a Will. Letters of Administration were granted to the two defendants, his unmarried sister and married brother, on 21 March 2005. By operation of law they were the sole beneficiaries as his only siblings. By Writ of Summons of 8 October 2007 the plaintiff issued proceedings relying on the doc t r ine of proprietary estoppel. Initially the claim was for the entirety of the estate of the deceased but Mr Craig Dunford, who appeared for the plaintiff, opened the action by conceding that the claim was for the dwelling house of the deceased and some land only. She said that early on in the relationship, when she was still just a teenage girl, Seamus Kane had asked her if she would always be there to look after him and she said she would. As part of the same conversation he assured her that she would always have a roof over her head and some land. She was rewarded for her work with occasional payments of £30 and the deceased paid for some items for her, such as her car insurance but no regular payments were made that were considered by the courts to amount to a wage. The judge decided that the deceased had ‘created and encouraged an expectation’ that Miss Mulholland would have a house and some land in return for the unpaid work she carried out on the farm. She was awarded a ‘just and equitable’ sum of £250,000 from the estate to purchase a house and land.

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