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Family business, broken promises

You’ll be familiar with the adage, “One day, my son, all of this will be yours.”

The Court of Appeal in London recently considered a case where this adage was not reflected in the Will.


The case involved three brothers: Richard, Adrian, and Philip Winter. Their parents, Albert and Brenda Winter, owned and operated a thriving market garden business. All three sons worked on the farm from a young age, contributing to its growth.

According to Richard and Adrian, their parents assured them that the business and its assets would be divided equally if they dedicated themselves to the family venture. This meant forgoing other career opportunities and accepting lower wages than they might have earned elsewhere.

However, when Albert passed away, his Will didn’t reflect the alleged promise. Philip, the eldest brother, stood to inherit a larger share. Richard and Adrian felt aggrieved and took legal action, claiming breach of promise.


The legal concept at the heart of this case was proprietary estoppel. In simpler terms, if someone relies on another’s assurance to their detriment (meaning they suffer a loss), the courts may step in and provide a remedy.

The critical question for the Court of Appeal was whether Richard and Adrian had suffered enough detriment to justify their claim. While they hadn’t been financially destitute, they had undoubtedly dedicated their lives to the family business based on their parents’ promise.

The court acknowledged that Richard and Adrian had received some financial benefit while working on the farm. However, they had forgone other opportunities and career paths based on the expectation of inheriting an equal share. This, the court ruled, constituted sufficient detriment.

The Court of Appeal ultimately dismissed Philip’s appeal, upholding the High Court’s decision in favour of Richard and Adrian. This meant that the family business and its assets would be divided more equally, reflecting the contribution and reliance of all three brothers.


Open communication and clear documentation can avoid family fallouts after you are gone.

Be clear about inheritance plans: If you intend to leave your family business to certain children, ensure this is reflected in your Will. Discuss your plans openly with all your children to avoid misunderstandings.

Document promises: If you assure someone of an inheritance in exchange for their work or sacrifice, consider putting it in writing. This can help avoid legal disputes later.

Keep up to date: Ensure your Will is kept up to date so that if your wishes or family relationships change, this is reflected in your Will. There is nothing more frustrating for those left behind than realising a Will is out of date and does not accurately reflect the wishes of the deceased.

For more information about this article or any other aspect of Wills and estate planning, get in touch with your Napthens Solicitors today in Preston, Southport, Fylde Coast, and across the North West.