Can my husband's parents leave him out of the will after he's worked the farm for 10 years?

Solicitor Deirdre Flynn tackles this delicate issue

Dear Deirdre, my husband has been farming the family farm for 10 years and has paid his parents rent money on the land. All the animals are in his name and the land they own. What I would like to know is where do we stand if his parents give the land to anybody else and we get none? He won't talk to his parents and they are strong willed people but I'm very worried for myself and my husband's future.

Lack of communication within a family, particularly a farming family, unfortunately can cause unnecessary worry and trouble. To establish where you and your husband stand, it would be useful to know firstly how the land is actually held and secondly, if your parents in law have made wills.

If the land is held in the sole name of one of your parents in law, then it will either devolve according to their will if they have one, or if they have not made a will, then two thirds will go their spouse and the remaining one third will be shared between your husband and his siblings.

If the land is in the joint names of your parents in law, then it will automatically pass to the survivor of them and their will then dictates who the ultimate owner of the land will be.  

If the survivor of them does not have a will, then it will pass according to the rules of intestacy and your husband and his siblings will all be entitled to an equal share of the land. Your Solicitor would be able to carry out a search in the Land Registry to ascertain how exactly the property is held.

You say your husband owns the animals, but what is the position regarding the entitlements, plant and machinery? They would also be important to consider.

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I note your husband is paying rent to his parents for the past 10 years and I assume therefore that there is a lease agreement in place. You should check the duration of this lease agreement and subject to the terms of that agreement, if your parents in law leave the land to someone else, then they will take subject to your husband’s lease.

You mention land only in your query and I assume if your husband is farming, then there is also a farmyard with sheds. Legislation provides protections for those with leases of a business premises or those tenants who have made improvements on the property they are renting.

However, this relates only to buildings i.e. sheds and not to the land and the terms of the lease agreement would also need to be looked at.

A course of action your husband may take in the event the land is left to someone else is a claim for Promissory Estoppel. This is essentially a claim your husband could make if he could prove firstly he was given a clear promise that he would be given the farm upon the death of his parents; secondly, he relied upon that promise and it was reasonable for him to so rely on that promise; and finally, he acted to his detriment in reliance of that promise, for example, he worked on the farm and spent money on the farm with the expectation that he was spending that money for himself. He must be able to prove all three of the above.

If all of the above are proven, often the Court will decide, if it believes it is reasonable in the circumstances, to transfer the farm to the person making the claim, in spite of what any will says.

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To succeed, your husband’s claim would also have to be corroborated in some way by evidence from a third party, for example, another family member or a neighbour who could testify they heard such promises being made to your husband by his parents. Your husband’s own evidence would also be critical in making such a claim.

As with all legal proceedings, there is a cost and that, along with the likeliness of success, would need to considered before making such a claim.

It is in everyone’s best interests if your husband could sit down with his parents and discuss the future of the farm as it would save a great deal of stress, worry and money for all parties concerned.

Deirdre Flynn is from a farming background and practices as a Solicitor at Deirdre Flynn Solicitors, Cathedral View, Ardfert, Co. Kerry Tel: 066 7115695   Email:

The information in this article is intended as a general guide only. While every care is taken to ensure accuracy of information provided, Deirdre Flynn does not accept responsibility for errors or omissions howsoever arising. You should seek legal advice in relation to your particular circumstances at the earliest possible time.

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