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Watch my lips – is a verbal promise legally binding or empty words?

The statement “one day, all this will be yours” is one that has increasingly come to be relied upon in bitter family disputes.

Problems inevitably begin when the person making the verbal promise then changes their mind but it would seem that the law is on your side if it can be proved this promise was something you relied upon to your detriment, as two recent cases illustrate.

“But you said…”

Eirian Davies, 47, took her parents to court after claiming they broke their promise to leave her the lion’s share of their £3.8 million, 182-acre, thriving dairy business.

The Court of Appeal initially decided to award Eirian £1.3 million after she successfully argued she was now in a worse position because she’d relied on her parent’s promise, given up employment elsewhere and had worked on the family farm for low pay because she thought she would benefit ultimately.

But just last month (May 2016) she saw her payout slashed to £500,000 aftersenior judges in London ruled the amount was too much

Mr and Mrs Davies’s QC, Simon Fancourt, said the payout was “hugely disproportionate,” and was wrongly based on the assumption that Miss Davies expected to “inherit the whole lot” on her parents’ death.

The legal costs of the case are expected to come to a high six-figure sum, further depleting the family fortune.

Background

The problems began after an altercation in the milk parlour in 2012 when Eirian’s parents, Tegwyn and Mary Davies tried, but failed, to evict their daughter from Henllan Farmhouse in Wales.

Her parents, who had previously told her she would inherit most of the farm, then changed their will to put it in the trust of Eirian and her two sisters equally

Miss Davies told the court she missed out on going to Young Farmers’ Club dances with her sisters as a teenager because she had to “stay home with a muck fork”.

“Even on my birthday, when the other girls were having things, they would say – ‘you will have the damn lot one day’,” she added.

Her parents argued she would have done no better financially had she worked away from the farm, insisting she earned a fair income and received free bed and board.

But although Eirian ultimately won the right to a stake in the farm, it is clear from the Court of Appeal’s judgement that the original amount awarded to her was “far too generous” indicating just how complicated this area of the law remains.

“I promise you security”

In a case of a different kind of broken promise, a man has been ordered to pay his ex-girlfriend £28,500 in a landmark ruling for unmarried couples because he assured her ‘the security a wife would have’.

David Southwell, 55, said he had never envisaged marrying Catherine Blackburn and had never promised her anything when they began their relationship in 2000.

The court heard the businessman had paid for the £240,000 home they shared in Droitwich, Worcestershire, and also covered the £100,000 mortgage, intending it should always stay in his name alone.

But the court heard Miss Blackburn and her two daughters were left stranded after the acrimonious break-down of their relationship in 2012.

Ruling on the case last year, Judge Daniel Pearce-Higgins QC said that Mr Southwell was ‘shrewd, cautious and guarded’ and had not wanted to marry Miss Blackburn because he knew what she would be able to claim should they break up.

Now a judge has ruled Mr Southwell should give Miss Blackburn a £28,500 stake in the property to uphold his previous promise of security.

Legal advice

If you think you have relied on a promise and then lost out when it has been broken, it is essential to seek legal advice. At Wards Solicitors we have the right legal specialist to help you whatever the area of law.

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