Avoid Farming Family Disputes by Making A Will

Recent years have sadly seen a rise in family farm disputes throughout the country.  These can be avoided by proper planning for succession, including the making of a Will.  

Succession is planning what happens to your interest and assets either during your lifetime or upon your death.  Sometimes the issue of succession is difficult for people to face up to – the elephant in the room – and understandably as no one wishes to think of their own personal demise.  However, if succession is not planned you run the risk of leaving behind issues for your family, an undesirable distribution of your assets, or the potential for large tax bills which could cause cash flow difficulties if your intention is that the farm business is to continue.

Avoid Intestacy 

If you die without making a Will then default rules called “intestacy rules” apply.  These may not leave your assets to the people who are your nearest and dearest.  This is because generally the intestacy rules favour your closest relatives and no weight is given to their actual relationship with you.  As an example, in a recent legal case, a farmer assumed his long term cohabiting partner would receive the farmhouse but she did not because the farmer made no Will. Whilst it is commonly thought that spouses and civil partners will inherit everything, where there is no Will, cohabiting partners do not benefit under the intestacy rules regardless of the relationship length even though cohabitation has become increasingly common.

Furthermore, the application of the intestacy rules can result in a high capital gains tax burden which can be avoided by simply having a Will prepared carefully by example placing assets in trust upon death.

How Having A Will In Place Can Help

Having a Will in place puts you in control of what happens to your property and possessions and enables you to organise your affairs ultimately deciding who shall benefit upon your death. As individual circumstances vary greatly from person to person much will depend on the assets which you hold and the legal basis upon which these are owned.

The involvement of a farming partnership, company, or tenancy all requires careful consideration. One of the hardest tasks as a Legal Practitioner is to advise a loved one following a recent death where there has been no succession planning that they are not entitled to either remain in the farmhouse during their lifetime and that despite the length of their relationship they are not going to inherit any assets.


Priority estate claims are typically where a farmer has assured a son or daughter that their input on the farm (often at very low remuneration rate) will one day be rewarded by receiving the family business or land and the son / daughter has relied upon that assurance to their detriment.  These assurances are typically not in writing and may have been made many years earlier but the son or daughter has continued to rely upon it all the same.  A successful claim may result in some or all of the farm being transferred to the son or daughter or a large capital sum paid to them all against the farmer’s wishes irrespective of whether that Will has been made.

Careful consideration therefore must be given in any succession planning to try and cover as many eventualities as possible.

Butcher & Barlow LLP

When discussing succession planning it is most important to be fully open with your Legal Representative so that they have a full picture and can advise fully.

If you believe that there is a potential when succession planning (including making your Will or executing Lasting Power of Attorney) or a dispute within the family it may be preferable for a member of our Dispute Resolution Team to be a party to those discussions.

Whilst this may increase the potential cost of succession planning in the longer term it may prevent significantly increased costs for your estate and ensure that those persons who you intend to benefit on your death do so.  It is possible to word Wills and Lasting Powers of Attorney to hopefully avoid these potential conflicts.  The farming businesses which are a company structure a Shareholders Agreement can equally prevent issues upon death of one of the principal shareholders.

Our Agricultural, Private Client, Commercial and Dispute Resolution Departments work closely to provide the security that you require.

Contact Mike Bracegirdle, Partner at our Gadbrook Park office on 01606 334309 or mbracegirdle@butcher-barlow.co.uk