A recent case in the Court of Appeal has resulted in a 92-year-old widow being given the right to evict her daughter and son-in-law, after a bitter family dispute that has lasted, on and off, for 20 years. The judges dismissed the couple's claims that they had been promised ownership of the house and had acquired rights over the property by making repairs to it at their own expense.
Eileen Cook and her husband moved into 19-acre Tretawdy Farm in Ross-on-Wye in 1959. Mr Cook kept some animals on the farm and was assisted by the couple’s daughter. Mrs Cook took no interest in the farming activities. When the daughter left, in 1990, to marry Wyndham Thomas, there was an argument over the marriage.
The family feud lasted until Mr Cook’s death in 1995, when there was a reconciliation at the funeral. The following year, Mr and Mrs Thomas moved onto the farm to live in a mobile home they had bought for the purpose. In 2001, this was damaged in a storm and they moved into the north end of the farm house.
Since 1996, Mr and Mrs Thomas have kept sheep and other animals on the farm. When repairs to the farmhouse were necessary, all three of them had, at some point, contributed to the cost.
Cordial relations continued until 2002, when there was a row over damage to a Land Rover, and from this point the couple and Mrs Cook lived entirely separate lives and did not speak to each other. At some point after that, Mr and Mrs Thomas learnt or suspected that they would not inherit the farm on Mrs Cook’s death.
Mrs Cook told the Court that she had agreed with her husband that the farm would eventually go to charity. When he died, she made a new will, which provided that her daughter and her husband would retain a life interest in the property. A later will, however, bequeathed the farm directly to a charity.
Mr and Mrs Thomas claimed in evidence that at various times Mrs Cook promised to leave them the farm. They also said that if they were evicted, Mrs Cook would benefit unfairly from the repairs that they had made at their own cost.
These claims were rejected by the Court, which ruled that at no time had any commitment by Mrs Cook been sufficient to have been binding. The judge was also of the opinion that any repairs made by Mr and Mrs Thomas were largely for their own convenience and did not give rise to rights over the property.
The Court ruled in favour of Mrs Cook, allowing her to proceed with the eviction of her daughter and son-in-law from the property and to retain the terms of her will.