O paperwork, paperwork, wherefore art thou, paperwork?


One of the stock phrases of the legal profession is “There is only one thing worse than paperwork, and that is no paperwork!” This came to mind the other day when I was reading the national coverage of an unfortunate family dispute that was being played out in the High Court.

The dispute was centred on a farming business on the south coast of England, near Chichester. The business was controlled by the Father, but the Son claims to have been the backbone of the business for more than 20 years, and was instrumental in helping to diversify the farm business into property during the 1990s.

The son lives in a “cottage” on the farm, which is now valued at £2.25m (different world down there!). He has lived there since his marriage in 1996. Confident that it effectively belonged to him, he did not buy a property of his own and was happy to spend something like £700,000 on renovating and improving the property. He viewed it as fair recompense as he worked for the family business for little or no remuneration.

Recently, he had fallen out with his Father over matters of business, and had tried to confirm his stake in the property. His Father denied that he had ever gifted the property and was just kind enough to let them live there. He claims that his Son is now trying to asset strip the estate.

A sorry state of affairs, and one that won’t make for happy family parties in the future. It could so easily have been avoided with clarification at the outset in the form of a lease or Deed of Transfer. Another opportunity arose for conversation and clarification when the Son was planning the renovations, but seemed happy to spend a large sum of money on an assumption.

Apparently, this dispute is part of a wider family dispute involving businesses, Trusts and properties. I can’t help but think that this will be fuelled by lack of paperwork covering items such as partnerships and company ownership. I would also strongly suspect that there has been a distinct lack of proper succession planning, which would have clarified these issues through an early conversation.

It is frustrating that us lawyers have to go on so much about sorting the family paperwork, be it wills, partnership agreements, Trusts or Power of Lasting Attorney, but it is hardly surprising when such cases appear in the national media.

Could the next case I read about feature you and your family? I do hope not.

If you would like any further information or to discuss any rural related matter, please contact Tom Wills, head of the agriculture & estates department at Sintons.


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