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Marriage and divorce advice: ‘The courts do not treat farms as special cases’

If not expertly navigated or avoided, such disputes could lead to the break-up of the farm and the family.

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Farms are often found at the centre of inheritance disputes.

 

Withers law firm partner Paul Hewitt and associate Richard Walker of the contentious trusts and succession team said if not expertly navigated or avoided, such disputes could lead to the break-up of the farm and the family.

 

“The courts do not treat farms as special cases,” Mr Hewitt said. “Farms and farm businesses are still treated as assets and farming families are rarely immune from the discord which plays out in courtrooms.

 

“In fact, it is the long-standing expectations and emotional ties between family members which can fuel hard-fought disputes.”


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Example of claims in the UK include:

  • by a non-farming child or dependent for maintenance provision from the late farm owner’s estate, which can frustrate succession plans and erode the farm;
  • by the farm owner’s child or key employee that they gave up an alternative career away from the farm because the farm was promised to them as inheritance;
  • by farming partners who fall out and the issue is whether or not the farm belongs to the partnership or to the original farm owner;
  • a relationship breakdown or divorce between the heir or heiress of the farm business and their new spouse, which can lead to the spouse becoming entitled to a proportion of the family farm.

Mr Walker said in order to preserve the farming legacy, farmers should think about what they would like to happen to their farm in the future.

He said: “Who should run it and who will inherit it? And what might those who do not inherit it get instead?”

 

He added it was wise not to delay seeking professional advice to put plans and precautions in place.

 

Mr Walker said: “Making the call or sending the email starts the ball rolling and, importantly, passes the burden on so you can focus on what you enjoy.”

 

It was also important to retain ongoing and periodic communication as well as reviewing plans following major family events or changes to farm law.

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