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1 Introduction

From: The Law of Proprietary Estoppel (2nd Edition)

Ben McFarlane

From: Oxford Legal Research Library (http://olrl.ouplaw.com). (c) Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved.date: 29 July 2021

Applicable law — Property and title and choice of law — Passing of property

This introductory chapter sets out the law of proprietary estoppel through the principle applied in Thorner v Major (2009). Peter Thorner, a farmer from Somerset, had indicated to David, whose father was a cousin of Peter, that David would inherit Peter’s farm. As a result, David had continued to work on that farm, for very low pay, for a further fifteen years. When Peter died without having made a valid will, the statutory intestacy rules imposed a duty on Peter’s administrators to hold the farm for the benefit not of David but of other relatives of Peter, closer to him in blood if not in life. The House of Lords confirmed, however, that proprietary estoppel operated to impose a duty on Peter (and now on his administrators) to transfer to David the farm and associated assets. The decision meant not only that David was around £2.1 million better off than he would have been had no estoppel claim been possible, but also that, in the words of the Supreme Court’s exhibition’s display: ‘if a verbal promise is made to someone who subsequently relies on that promise to their own detriment, that promise can be enforced under the principles of fairness and equity’.

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