Latest Farming Dispute ‘Showcases Importance Of Written Partnership Agreements’

Quarrelling Family Receive Judgment Fifteen Years After Father’s Death

Litigation experts at top law firm Irwin Mitchell Private Wealth are highlighting how written partnership agreements are vital for farming businesses in order to avoid complex will disputes.

In the latest farming dispute to emerge from the courts, a judge has ruled that a £1.65 million farm and bungalow were to be included in the deceased’s estate rather than part of a farming business.

The deceased, Ben Wild, died in 2003 and the farming partnership continued between the two brothers, Malcolm and Gregory Wild, until 2016 when relations broke down.

Claimant Gregory Wild believed the farm and bungalow to be a part of the farming partnership, therefore subject to the partnership’s winding-down proceedings, whereas defendants Malcolm Wild, his wife Abigail and his mother Jean argued the farm and bungalow had passed to Jean as specified in their father’s will.

Malcolm and Abigail had also invested significantly in the bungalow’s renovation, which during the case was valued at £285,000. Another point of contention was how much of the renovation’s budget had come from the farming partnership, which Gregory argued was a majority.

Accounts for the partnership and mentions of the farm and bungalow were patchy as records had been lost or never recorded, which is where the dispute arose. Will dispute experts at Irwin Mitchell Private Wealth urge the importance of keeping up-to-date documentation for farming businesses, particularly if there is the expectation that a family member will inherit it.

Heather Roberts, an associate in the Will, Trust and Estate Disputes team, said: “This was a complex dispute that involved deciding whether the farm, and by extension the bungalow which defendants Malcolm and Abigail Wild lived in, was a part of the farming partnership or part of the deceased’s estate.

“It was a good outcome for the defendants as the judge ruled the farm and bungalow were indeed belonging to their mother Jean Wild and that they had a proprietary estoppel claim against the bungalow, which has been their home for decades. However, the dispute could have been avoided had the family made sure that all assets were clearly accounted for either in a will or a formal partnership agreement decades earlier.

“The Wild brothers’ relationship had deteriorated significantly over the years, even coming to blows in the past as mentioned in the judgment. It is likely the stress and cost – both emotional and monetary – of the will dispute that has taken years to resolve soured relations even further.

“Other families that have a family business and have an understanding that it may pass to them upon the death of their parents should look into drawing up a formal agreement to avoid this situation – the more complex a structure, the lengthier and more costly the dispute could be.”

(Source: Irwin Mitchell)

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