Re Basham (Deceased)

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
Date1986
CourtChancery Division
[CHANCERY DIVISION] In re BASHAM, DECD. [1983 B. No. 4430] 1986 March 18, 19, 20; May 20 Edward Nugee Q.C. sitting as a High Court judge

Estoppel - Conduct, by - Equitable - Proprietary estoppel - Stepdaughter living near deceased providing unpaid services - Deceased giving assurances as to stepdaughter's future right to house and other property - Deceased dying intestate - Whether belief in future rights giving rise to proprietary estoppel - Whether stepdaughter entitled to house and other property

The plaintiff's mother married the deceased in 1936 when the plaintiff was 15. She lived with them until her marriage in 1941. She continued to help them to run their business and was never paid but understood that she would inherit the deceased's property when he died. In 1947 the plaintiff's husband was considering moving to a job with a tied cottage but the deceased was opposed to that, saying that he was willing to help them get another suitable house. Shortly afterwards the deceased purchased a tenanted cottage with money provided largely by the plaintiff's mother. She died in 1976 and the deceased moved into the cottage which had become vacant. Shortly afterwards there was a boundary dispute between the deceased and his neighbour and the plaintiff took advice from her own solicitors, the deceased having told her that it was for her benefit because the house was hers. The plaintiff and her family lived near the deceased and although the plaintiff's husband did not get on well with the deceased, he provided food for him, kept the garden in order and helped the plaintiff with work about the house. The plaintiff bought carpets for it and laid them herself and regularly prepared meals for him. She was told by the deceased that she would lose nothing by doing those acts for him. A few days before his death the deceased indicated that he wanted to make a will leaving money to the plaintiff's son and that she was to have his house. The remainder of his estate consisted of cash, money on deposit in the national savings bank, and furniture and other chattels. The deceased died intestate and the plaintiff claimed a declaration against two of his nieces who were administrators de bonis non of his estate, that she was absolutely and beneficially entitled to the house and to the deceased's furniture and other property.

On the plaintiff's claim:—

Held, granting the declaration, that the principle of proprietary estoppel was not limited to acts done in reliance on a belief relating to an existing right, but extended to acts done in reliance on a belief that future rights would be granted; and that a proprietary estoppel could be raised in relation to the grant of rights over residuary estate; that, accordingly, since the plaintiff had established that she had acted to her detriment in reliance on her belief, encouraged by the deceased, that she would ultimately benefit by receiving the deceased's property on his death, she was absolutely and beneficially entitled to the deceased's residuary estate, including the house (post, pp. 1504G, 1505E, 1507F–G, 1509B–C, H–1510E).

Greasley v. Cooke [1980] 1 W.L.R. 1306, C.A.; In re Cleaver, decd. [1981] 1 W.L.R. 939 and Taylors Fashions Ltd. v. Liverpool Victoria Trustees Co. Ltd. [1982] Q.B. 133 considered.

The following cases are referred to in the judgment:

Birmingham v. Renfrew (1937) 57 C.L.R. 666

Cleaver, decd., In re [1981] 1 W.L.R. 939; [1981] 2 All E.R. 1018

Crabb v. Arun District Council [1976] Ch. 179; [1975] 3 W.L.R. 847; [1975] 3 All E.R. 865, C.A.

Grant v. Edwards [1986] 3 W.L.R. 114; [1986] 2 All E.R. 426, C.A.

Greasley v. Cooke [1980] 1 W.L.R. 1306; [1980] 3 All E.R. 710, C.A.

Griffiths v. Williams (1978) 248 E.G. 947, C.A.

Hall-Dare, In re [1916] 1 Ch. 272

Inwards v. Baker [1965] 2 Q.B. 29; [1965] 2 W.L.R. 212; [1965] 1 All E.R. 446, C.A.

Moorgate Mercantile Co. Ltd. v. Twitchings [1976] Q.B. 225; [1975] 3 W.L.R. 286; [1975] 3 All E.R. 314, C.A.

Ramsden v. Dyson (1866) L.R. 1 H.L. 129, H.L.(E.)

Smith v. Chadwick (1882) 20 Ch.D. 27, C.A.

Spiers v. English [1907] P. 122

Taylors Fashions Ltd. v. Liverpool Victoria Trustees Co. Ltd. (Note) [1982] Q.B. 133; [1981] 2 W.L.R. 576; [1981] 1 All E.R. 897

Willmott v. Barber (1880) 15 Ch.D. 96

The following additional cases were cited in argument:

Dillwyn v. Llewellyn (1862) 4 De G. F. & J. 517

Plimmer v. Mayor of Wellington (1884) 9 App.Cases. 699 P.C.

ACTION

By writ dated 4 October 1983, the plaintiff, Joan Eileen Bird, of St. Marks, Vicarage Road, Great Hockham, Thetford, Norfolk, claimed against the defendant Robert Gerald Basham, a brother of the deceased, Henry Edward Basham, and administrator of his estate, declarations that the plaintiff was absolutely and beneficially entitled or entitled to such extent as the court might direct to the property known as Rosslyn, Vicarage Road, Great Hockham, Norfolk and all other furniture, money and other property of Henry Edward Basham, deceased, who died intestate, and an order directing the vesting of the property of the deceased in the plaintiff as might be appropriate on the grounds that the plaintiff acted to her detriment and/or prejudiced herself in reliance on the expectation or belief induced and encouraged by the deceased that she had or would on his death obtain beneficially ownership of all his property.

The defendant to the action died on 2 April 1985 and letters of administration de bonis non were granted to two nieces of the deceased, Hazel Jean Tucker and Letty May Field, who became defendants to the action.

W. H. Henderson for the plaintiff.

Godfree Browne for the defendants.

Cur. adv. vult.

20 May. MR. EDWARD NUGEE Q.C. read the following judgment. The plaintiff in this action is the stepdaughter of the late Mr. Henry Basham, who died intestate on 13 April 1982 aged 86. The two defendant are nieces of the deceased and are the administrators de bonis non of his estate. The plaintiff's mother married the deceased as her second husband in about 1936, when the plaintiff was aged about 15. From that time onwards the plaintiff's mother (until her death in 1976), the plaintiff and later her husband, son and daughter formed a very close-knit family with the deceased, and since about 1950 they have all lived within a few houses of one another in Vicarage Road, Great Hockham, Norfolk. They have, however, no blood relationship with the deceased, and the persons entitled to his estate on his intestacy are his brother Robert, who was the original administrator of his estate and the original defendant in this action, but who died on 2 April 1985, and the children of his deceased sisters, of whom there are seven. The first defendant is the daughter of the deceased's brother and the second defendant is the daughter of a deceased sister.

The deceased left a net estate of a little over £43000, consisting of a cottage known as Rosslyn, Vicarage Road, Great Hockham, which was valued for probate at £21000, cash on current account and deposit account and in the national savings bank amounting to nearly £23000, and furniture and other chattels valued for probate at £100, from which funeral expenses and some modest debts fall to be deducted. The plaintiff claims a declaration that she is absolutely and beneficially entitled to the cottage and a declaration that she is absolutely and beneficially entitled to the deceased's furniture, money and other property, or alternatively a declaration that she is interested in the cottage and/or the deceased's furniture money and other property to such an extent as the court may direct. Her claim is based on an allegation that she acted to her detriment or prejudiced herself in reliance on the expectation or belief, induced and encouraged by the deceased, that she had or would obtain beneficially on the death of the deceased ownership of the cottage and all the furniture and other property of the deceased. That is to say, it is based on the doctrine which has become known as proprietary estoppel. The defendants accept that the plaintiff did a very great deal for the deceased, but they say that on the facts her acts were not done in reliance on any expectation she may have had but were attributable to her natural love and affection for the deceased, and that her expectation was not encouraged by the deceased and in any event did not extend to the whole of his estate; and they say that as a matter of law the doctrine of proprietary estoppel does not apply unless the expectation relates to a particular property in which the claimant has an existing right or of which the claimant has existing enjoyment, the principle being that where the doctrine applies equity intervenes to prevent the legal owner from disturbing such right or enjoyment. They accept that, if the necessary conditions were satisfied, and if the plaintiff had been living at the cottage, an equity would have arisen which the court could have protected by giving her a life interest in the property or even by compelling the defendants to convey the property to her; but they say that such an equity cannot arise in the present case in relation to the cottage because the plaintiff was living in her own house a little way down the road, and that it cannot arise in any event in relation to the rest of the deceased's estate, of which he was free to dispose during his life.

The facts are not seriously in dispute. They were almost wholly within the knowledge of the plaintiff, her husband and her children, and not within the knowledge of the defendants or any other members of the family. The defendants therefore called no evidence, but confined themselves to testing the evidence called on behalf of the plaintiff by cross-examination and making submissions on the law. The plaintiff was an excellent witness, and I have no hesitation in accepting her evidence, which was to the following effect.

When her mother married the deceased the plaintiff was training to be a hairdresser; but...

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