Proprietary Estoppel – Acting to your detriment

“It is sufficient if the party to whom the assurance is given, acts on the faith of it in such circumstances that it would be unjust and inequitable for the party making the assurance to go back on it”. (Lord Denning in Greasley v Cooke [1980] 1 WLR 1306)

Proprietary estoppel is an equitable doctrine which addresses the circumstances in which a promise has been made to someone who has then acted in reliance on that promise to their detriment. It follows from that, that it is unconscionable in the circumstances for the promise not to be fulfilled and/or honoured.

If you find yourself in a position where a promise was made to you that you relied on that promise in a detrimental way, following which on the death of the deceased,  he or she did not carry out the promise, you may have a claim under the doctrine of proprietary estoppel for an interest in the property and/or assets which were promised to you.

The main question is what did you do to your detriment in reliance on the promise? This is an open ended question and there is no specific definition as to what constitutes detriment in these circumstances. Examples, which have been upheld by the court however are:

  • Giving up work and moving from one town or city to another;
  • Foregoing other business opportunities to work in the family business for a reduced salary;
  • Providing general nursing care to the deceased, tending to their garden and running errands; and
  • Giving up a career.

Each case of proprietary estoppel differs.  However it is a powerful doctrine, which must not be overlooked in contentious probate cases where a deceased has left a will which has not provided for you or if there is no will, which means you will not inherit under the intestacy rules.