Estoppel

2 March, 2015
by: Cripps Pemberton Greenish

I recently published an article in the Kent and Sussex Courier about the legal principle of equitable estoppel. The very recent case of Lothian v Dixon and Webb [2014] provides a good example of this principle in action when it applies to an interest in land.

In broad terms, an equitable estoppel is a legal right which allows an individual to enforce a promise made to them if they have relied on that promise (which is subsequently not honoured) to their detriment. What this means in my area of work (and I often come across cases like this) is that the courts can enforce a promise made by someone before they died, even if that person’s Will contradicts the promise they made.

In Lothain v Dixon and Webb [2014] the deceased owned a seaside hotel. She had made a Will in 1983 leaving her residuary estate to her two cousins, Mrs Lothian and Mrs Webb. In 2010 the deceased was diagnosed with terminal cancer and, at that stage, she realised that she would need to be taken care of and would need assistance running her hotel. She asked Mrs Lothian to take care of her and the hotel and, in return, she said she would leave Mrs Lothian her entire estate. Mrs Lothian moved from her home in Scotland to do this. She took care of the deceased and the hotel for 2 years and, before the deceased could change her Will, the deceased died.

Mrs Lothian brought a claim for the entire estate, as promised to her, but this was opposed by Mrs Webb, who argued that proprietary estoppel did not apply as Mrs Lothian had not relied on the promise to her detriment. The court disagreed, stating that the support and activities provided, the altering of her lifestyle and the fact that Mrs Lothian had no idea how long she might be called on to support the deceased amounted to a substantial detriment. The court held that it would be unfair not to enforce the promise and Mrs Lothian was awarded the entire net residuary estate after satisfying any legacies payable under the Will.

If you would like more information on the estoppel principle or a copy of my Kent and Sussex Courier Article please contact my colleague Dino Sikkel at dino.sikkel@crippspg.co.uk.