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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Elderly widow involved in bitter estate dispute

A recent blog post by Toronto lawyer Charles Ticker, who blogs at The Sibling Fight, talks about the ongoing fight between 91-year-old Margaret Davies and her son, Sidney. The issue is that Mrs. Davies' husband had promised Sidney that on his death, Sidney would get 1.3 acres of land and the barn on it. Mr. Davies died but his wife would not honour the agreement her husband had made with Sidney. The estate (including the farmhouse, barn, and land) is worth about 2 million UK pounds.

Click here to read more about this story and Mr. Ticker's comments.

The court has sided with Sidney. The issues have heated up. Mrs. Davies has refused to follow court orders and is now in danger of losing the entire estate because she would not part with the portion that was promised to Sidney. So far she has been ordered to pay thousands in her son's legal fees.

This raises an interesting question for many readers. Lots of us hear verbal promises from parents or grandparents that one day they'll pass something on to us. Yet, when their will fails to give us that gift, we are almost never able to claim what was promised. So what was the reason that the court is supporting Sidney's claim?

According to the facts of the story, after Sidney was promised that he'd one day own the barn and land, he moved into a trailer on the property. He spent thousands of dollars fixing up and maintaining the barn. In other words, he took the promise on faith and took action that was more to the advantage of his parents than to himself. He would not have spent the money on the barn had he not thought he would one day own it, and it would be unfair for them to accept the money and then take back the promise.

This concept is called constructive trust.There are conditions that have to be met in law in order for a situation to amount to constructive trust. The promise made must be something believable, and the person who believes it must take actions that are adverse to his own interest because he believes it. Not every promise made by every person is reasonably believable. And most importantly, in the vast majority of cases, the person who feels a promise has been made to him or her takes absolutely no steps to act on the promise.

It's always disappointing when a family ends up in litigation, but it's not clear from the story why Mrs. Davies is refusing to honour her husband's promise to her son.


  1. A very interesting and complicated case. I read as much as I could and based on what I read I tend to agree with the Court due to the numerous issues. "Although she allegedly acknowledged the agreement between father and son, she did not act on it. " To me the 'allegedly' creates a bit of a problem. In one article it's " At the time of Thomas’ death, Margaret acknowledged the existence of the agreement between Sidney and Thomas". Confusing.
    "Sidney’s father promised him that he could have the barn on the property and 1.3 acres of surrounding land for £6,000. " That sounds very plausible and is probably true but again WHY didn't the father and the perhaps the mother put it in writing ie a Will. The son and his mother had a falling out and we don't know why. I believe we have a 'very angry' mother here and she wants to punish her son.
    Another dysfunctional family. There are so many, that books are written about it.
    The lesson here I believe is put everything in writing. Look for a good lawyer, an honest lawyer, a lawyer with integrity and get a Will written.
    Based on my current personal situation, my response is, 'do not trust anyone'. Keep solid records.

  2. Hi 'webeye',
    "WHY didn't the father and the perhaps the mother put it in writing"

    For a lot of reasons, but as you observed that "we have a 'very angry' mother here and she wants to punish her son", for many people, putting it in writing would not suit their aims.

    Older people and parents are far too often portrayed as weak-minded helpless victims, and that is rarely the case. Sure, some parents go a bit potty as they get old, but as this article demonstrates, many a senior can be closing on on 100 and still have all their faculties, such as they are.

    We are rarely shown the conniving, manipulative side of the elderly parents, and that is a chief reason so many do not bother with wills. It is not because they are too stupid to know that wills exist and how a will works.

    Once they put it in writing they have reduced if not eliminated their own power. They can no longer keep their kids in line with the ever-present promise or threat of things (or nothing) to come.
    Once everybody knows where they stand, come what may, that parent no longer has the control they imagined they once had.

    You seem aware of they sorts of family dynamics that can exist. It is sad, but not at all uncommon. And of course, there will always be those who are not yet sure themselves how they want to divide it up, as to their dying day they remain unconvinced that any of their ungrateful offspring is truly worth.

  3. 'webmouth'February 19, 2017 at 1:06 PM

    I am 76 and I am aware of what you have written. It is about 'control'. It certainly depends on the relationship between parent and child. It is never easy. I have 2 adult children and things are 'generally' ok. I do have a Will.


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