Promissory estoppel

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Promissory estoppel claims: I was promised something!

If the Deceased promised you something during their lifetime intended to benefit you on their death and you relied on this – but they then did not make the appropriate provision in their Will, you may be able to bring a claim.

The claim may involve either:

  • the promise of a sum of money or non specific benefit – known as a ‘promissory estoppel’ claim, or
  • the promise of property or land – known as a ‘proprietary estoppel’ claim.

The key elements for this type of claim are:

  • The Deceased made you a promise during their lifetime
  • You relied on the promise
  • Your reliance on that promise resulted in a detriment

Examples

A good example of a promissory estoppel claim would be if the Deceased promised you: “I will look after you financially if you give up your job to take care of me.” As a result of the promise, you quit your job to be the Deceased’s full time carer up until their death. Your claim against the Deceased’s estate in this instance would be for money or property to put you in a position that you would have been in, had the promise been fulfilled. Note that the Court’s approach to reimbursing you would be proportionate – so in this example, it is likely the Court would seek to reimburse you financially as if you had kept their job.

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Proprietary estoppel/promissory estoppel cases – points to note

These type of cases arise where the Deceased has promised something such as “all this will be yours when I die” in relation to a property or something else of value. Where this type of promise is made, there can be a claim – provided that the Claimant acted in reliance to their detriment (Re Basham [1986]). The reliance on the Deceased’s promise must be a reasonable reliance. The promise made by the Deceased to the Claimant does not have to be the only reason why the Claimant acted to their detriment.

There are two key elements to this type of claim – first, the assurance, and second, the reliance on that assurance to the Claimant’s detriment.

The burden of proof in proving that an assurance was made lies with the Claimant. If the Court does not believe the assurance was made, the claim will fail (Gordon v Mitchell and Gordon
[2007]).

The words used by the Deceased in making an assurance are very important. While they do not necessarily need to be as precise as you would find in a contract, they must be specific enough for the conclusion to be reached that the Deceased intended the words to be relied on, so as to give rise to a belief that the Claimant had an interest in the property in question. The words must have been clear enough for the Claimant to reasonably assume that they were intended to confer on him, or vary his rights, in relation to the property. Vague words may not be enough.

The acts done by the Claimant may be in reliance on the belief in an existing right, or a belief that future rights will be granted in the property.