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Proprietary Estoppel

After reporting two weeks ago about the use of proprietary estoppel to claim an inheritance another case has hit the news this week showing that these matters are dealt with on a case by case basis and nothing is guaranteed. Two sister who claim they were promised their father's home have failed in a High Court inheritance bid. Averil Macdonald and her sister Deborah Bannigan gave their dad Joseph Frost £100 every month for 20 years in the belief he would leave them his Walsall property after the family business failed and their parents were left in financial difficulty. But, instead, Mr Frost, a widower, wrote a will soon after he married his second wife, Marion in 2002, leaving his £231,000 estate to her. It meant Averil and her sister got nothing. At the High Court lawyers for the sisters said that they were entitled to the house under the legal principle of “proprietary estoppel”, claiming he had made a firm promise to them that the property would be theirs. Prof Macdonald and Ms Bannigan both agreed that, if they won the case, Marion would have to be provided for out of the £200,000 property, but said they should get whatever was left when their stepmother died. However on October 5 Judge Geraldine Andrews QC rejected the sisters' case and said that monthly payments they had made to their father (and their mother Clare when she was still alive) were made “solely in return for an advance on their inheritance”. The judge added that she was “disappointed” that both sides had not been able to reach a compromise in the case, adding that although everyone had insisted there was “no ill-feeling” between the sisters and Marion, she had got the impression she “had not been told the full story”. She observed that Mr Frost had not invited his daughters to his wedding to Marion, while Ms Bannigan did not attend his funeral – “indications of far greater family tensions than anyone was prepared to admit”. Averil denies that there was any bad feeling between the parties and that the couple had married in secret and both her and her sister were pleased for their father, not thinking that the agreement they had would be affected. She says that she has learnt the hard way that without a formal written agreement there is never any guarantee that loved ones will do what is expected.

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