Property sharing – untangling disputed ownership

Posted on: September 19th, 2018

In August Chris Gambs was delighted to have a detailed paper published as the lead article in the Association of Contentious Trusts and Probate Specialists (ACTAPS) newsletter which is circulated to all the leading member solicitors and barristers in his field of practice.

The paper is about a topic called “proprietary estoppel”, which in plain English, deals with claims where someone is promised an interest in property in return for them working on the property for free or at a reduced rate. The claims arise when the person claiming to have done the work, doesn’t then receive the promised property. The problem is that because the promises are rarely put in writing, that the two most common triggers for these claims are following the death of the person making the promise, who it is then discovered has in fact made no provision in their will to fulfil the promise or where an unmarried couple, without children, break-up and the house was owned by only one of them.

The claims relating to will disputes are often about which member of the family will inherit the family farm, but it could involve any other type of business or property.

The unmarried couple disputes on the other hand are usually where one party has moved into the other’s house and done a lot of work on it, which may also include paying for materials, tradesman and or transferring money to their partner. The parties in such a relationship may assume that they have gained an interest in the house and if they were ever to break up that their interest would  be dealt with as if they were married. It may come as an unpleasant surprise that family law does not govern this area and the question of their potential rights in the property is instead subject trust/property law, which is very different.

Establishing the interest and the level of entitlement can be complex requiring very careful evidence gathering and analysis. The disputes are also often unsurprisingly emotionally charged and that can make getting reliable evidence more challenging, aside from managing the emotional element.

Click below to read the full report. 

Proprietary Estoppel

Achieving the best result for clients requires both a detailed understanding of this specialist area and emotional intelligence to help drive the claim forward in a constructive manner. Chris and his colleague Rachel Evans offer a dedicated team working exclusively in this field.