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Farm worker case highlights the need to keep your will up to date

The problems that can emerge from failing to make a will have been highlighted in a case involving an agricultural labourer who worked without pay for 30 years on the understanding that he would eventually inherit his cousin’s farm.

David Thorner spent most of his adult life helping out on a farm in Somerset owned by his cousin Peter Thorner. He agreed not to take any wages on the understanding that he would inherit the land, worth £2m, when his cousin died. He lived on little more than pocket money from his parents in the meantime.

Peter made a will leaving the estate to David. Later he made an alteration to the will relating to a completely different matter but then never returned it to his solicitor. When he died the will could not be found.

In the absence of a will, other members of Peter’s family claimed the estate. The case ended up in the High Court which recognised David’s remarkable commitment and accepted that his cousin Peter had wanted him to inherit.

David was awarded the farm. The remainder of the estate, valued at over £1m, went to other members of the family.

However, Peter’s sisters challenged the ruling and won their case in the Court of Appeal. Lord Justice Lloyd said David Thorner had a strong moral claim to the farm but it would be a dangerous precedent for him to inherit it. "This is another case, where, what appear to have been a man's testamentary intentions have failed because, for whatever reason, he did not take the proper steps to put them into effect.

Mr Thorner refused to accept the Court of Appeal’s decision and took the case to the House of Lords, which has now ruled in his favour. It means he will be able to inherit after all.

The case illustrates the problems that can arise if someone fails to make a will or fails to keep it up to date. It might be said that justice was done in the end as Mr Thorner will inherit after all, but he has had to fight a long legal battle to win his case. All that stress could have been avoided if his cousin had simply updated his will.

Anyone who has not made a will or updated it to reflect changes in their circumstances should consider doing so as soon as possible. Please contact us if you would like more information.

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