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A High Court judge has ruled in favour of two “long-term friends” of the deceased in an inheritance dispute involving a Yorkshire farm.
Brothers Matthew and James Wills were awarded 50 acres of land at Gilmoor Farm, near Harrogate, plus associated outbuildings and barns, whose estimated value is believed to be around £350,000.
The pair had worked on the farm for many years and had been promised they would inherit by the deceased, Anthony “Tony” Sowray.
Mr Sowray’s estranged daughter, Claire, inherited the £150,000 farmhouse that had been promised to her, but will have to pay the costs of the litigation.
Mr Sowray died intestate in 2017 and his entire estate passed to his daughter. The court heard that the pair had only met in person when Claire was 22 but that they had developed a closer relationship in his later years.
Claire Sowray claimed that her father had intended the entire farm to be hers and that they had made business plans about how it would be run.
However, the Wills brothers argued that by the time Mr Sowray had become reconciled with his daughter, their livelihoods were entirely reliant on promises the farmer had made to them, although these were not in writing.
Paula Myers, of law firm Irwin Mitchell, who represented the Wills brothers, said the case was unusual as it involved “long-term friends rather than family members”.
“Tony had told [the brothers] on many occasions that the land would one day be theirs,” she said. “Many witnesses had to give evidence about the brothers working on the land and about the promises that were made to them over many years.
“Ensuring your estate planning is in order to prevent unfortunate situations like this has proven vital,” she added. “Had Tony put plans in place to ensure that Matthew, James and Claire were provided for as he intended, this lengthy case and trial could have been avoided.”
The full judgment can be found here.