dispute over inheritance of farm

A Somerset woman has been awarded over £1 million in damages following a High Court case about the inheritance of a family farm.

Lucy Habberfield, who was advised by the inheritance and trust disputes team at Stephens Scown, received the substantial damages in recognition of the work that she had carried out at the family farm over a period of 30 years.

The case related to Woodrow Farm near Yeovil. Lucy Habberfield started to work on the family farm when she left school. She worked with her father to reintroduce a dairy herd to Woodrow and went on to develop and run the dairy business. Over 30 years Lucy worked for low wages and with few holidays. In 2007 she was joined on the farm by her partner Stuart Parker on a full-time basis and together they brought up four children while running the business.

Lucy claimed that her father had assured her that she would take over the farm when he retired. However, when he died in 2014 her father’s promises and assurances were not carried out. The High Court case, which was heard by Mr Justice Birss, related to compensation for broken promises. Lucy’s mother opposed the claim.

Phil Gregory, partner in the inheritance and trusts disputes team at Stephens Scown advised on the case. He explains: “For 30 years Lucy worked seven days a week for low wages on the family farm on the understanding that she would one day take over the farm from her father.

“After hearing evidence from over 20 witnesses, many of whom were local farmers and farm workers, the judge ruled in favour of Lucy. He found that she had kept her side of the bargain. To compensate her for the detriment that she had suffered over the years she was awarded a sum equivalent to the value of the Woodrow farmland and farm buildings.”

Phil added: “The area of law involved is called Proprietary Estoppel. It is a developing area, with a series of high profile cases, particularly relating to farms, over recent years. We are delighted for our client that the court found in her favour and awarded her a fair amount for the work she put into the farm over a very long period of time.”

Lucy Habberfield said: “I worked hard on the farm for so long and following my fathers drop in health, my siblings, with the help of my mother, made it impossible to stay on the farm. To start with I didn’t know I could do anything about the situation – I think a lot of people in farming are not aware of this law and how it could help them. Once I realised there was something I could do, I knew I had to try for my children’s sake and to give them a secure future.

Lucy added: “Phil and his team at Stephens Scown were brilliant and a fantastic support over the last four and a half years. It is impossible to take your mind off a case like this and it is so exhausting, but having a team of experts to keep us going in the right direction really helped. My partner Stuart has been amazing too and I could not have done this without him. Now that the case is over I’m relieved, but I’m still finding it hard to look too far into the future. I would love to go back into farming at some point if I can – I loved working with the cows and really miss that work.”

Our inheritance and trusts disputes team has top tier ranking from Legal 500. The independent legal guide says of the team: “its strength lies in the real specialist knowledge and strength in depth which it uses to good effect to get great results”.  To discuss a dispute over inheritance get in touch with our team email drx@stephens-scown.co.uk or telephone 01392 210700