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Not a ‘Pennymore’ for son who claimed he’d been promised his farmer father’s estate

Insisting someone promised you something before they died is not a good enough reason to have their Will overturned in your favour, a recent High Court case shows.

Farmer's son, Sam James, sued his mother and sisters for ownership of his late father's £3m farm but has now been told by Judge Matthews in the High Court in Bristol that he is not entitled to a share.

Background

Sam James said he had devoted his whole life to working for his father on the 'promise' that one day hundreds of acres of land at Pennymore Pitt Farm in Dorset would be his.

But when Allen James died at the age of 81 in 2012, he completely cut his son out of his Will, leaving everything to his wife and two daughters.

Sam challenged the Will but Judge Matthews concluded his father was well within his rights when he made his decision.

Persuaded himself he was being promised

Judge Matthews said: "In my judgement, Sam's eagerness to inherit the farmland from his father caused him to persuade himself that he was being promised something when he was not. Allen James did not intend his words in that way, and did not intend them to be relied upon subsequently by Sam.

"It is not consistent with the image of Mr James as someone who kept everything in his own hands and did not confide in others."

'Worked his socks off'

The court heard that Sam James left school early and worked for the family business for 35 years. His barrister said he was an 'absolute grafter' who 'worked his socks off' and claimed he was a 'driving force' in the family business.

In 2004, Allen James instructed solicitors to draft a Will leaving the farm and land to Sam but his wife objected and it was never executed. The following Will, which disinherited Sam entirely, was objected to by Sam because he claimed his father lacked testamentary capacity at the time he signed it.

Importantly, one of the factors relevant to the court's decision seems to have been that Sam had not worked for nothing on the family farm - as had been the case in previous cases on similar facts - but had been paid the going rate.

For help and advice about probate disputes, please contact our specialist disputes team at Wards Solicitors by phone or by popping into one of our 11 local offices.