Elderly widow facing eviction in dispute with son

A recent story from Worcestershire, England describes the difficulties an elderly widow is having with her son. The dispute involves a £2 million farmhouse, a barn, and several acres of land. Ms. Margaret Davies is 91 years old. She moved into the farm located at Malvern Hills with her husband, Thomas Davies, in 1959. She has lived there ever since.

Her son, Sidney Davies, is 70 years old. The dispute dates back almost 40 years.  Some time in the early 1970s, Sidney’s father promised him that he could have the barn on the property and 1.3 acres of surrounding land for £6,000.  Sidney left his home at the time, and moved into a caravan at the farm. He relied on his father’s promise in moving to the farm.

When Thomas Davies died in 1996, ownership of the farm, barn, and the disputed land passed into the name of Margaret Davies alone.  At the time of Thomas’ death, Margaret acknowledged the existence of the agreement between Sidney and Thomas. She has since failed to honor the agreement.  Since moving onto the farm, Sidney has allegedly spent thousands of pounds fixing the barn.

Margaret Davies has refused to honor her husband’s promise

As a result of Margaret’s failure to honor the agreement between father and son, Sidney commenced a court action against his mother in 2011.  In 2013 Justice Pearce-Higgins  found that the agreement between Thomas and Sidney was valid, and that he was entitled to the land.

Justice Pearce-Higgins realized that giving Sidney the land and the barn would result in further acrimony and instead put a price on his interest at £68,000. He also ordered that Sidney be paid over £50,000 in legal fees. Sidney moved away from the farm. Margaret failed to pay the ordered sum. This led to further litigation resulting in Margaret being ordered to move out so that the property. This was done so that it could  be sold in order to pay Sidney.

Subsequently, Margaret opposed the whole property being used to secure the outstanding debt owed to Sidney. Lord Justice Briggs heard the appeal and found that Sidney had vacated barn on the assumption that the whole farm secured the debt owed to him.  Furthermore, Lord Justice Briggs concluded that Margaret had done nothing to raise the funds make the payment ordered by Justice Pearce-Higgins in 2013. Margaret is now facing the very real threat of having to sell and move out of her farm home at the age of 91.

Dispute may result not only in eviction but massive legal costs for the elderly widow

It is not clear why Margaret refused to honor her husband’s promise to her son.  It is also not clear why Thomas did not take the necessary steps to ensure that when he passed away his son would get the property he was promised.  When Thomas passed away in 1996, the whole property was transferred to Margaret.  Although she allegedly acknowledged the agreement between father and son, she did not act on it.  Sidney lived on the property under the false assumption that he would eventually get what he was promised. It is easy to see why Sidney would commence litigation.

This case illustrates the level of hostility that can arise among family members in an estate dispute.  An elderly widow may have to sell her home in the twilight of her life. More importantly, the parties have likely accrued massive legal costs.  As early as the ruling of Justice Pearce-Higgins in 2013, Sidney’s legal costs were ordered to be paid by Margaret at £50,000. It is unclear what her costs were at that time, and what legal fees the parties have incurred to date after the recent appeal by Margaret. This kind of scenario can cripple the finances of a family.

It will be interesting to see what happens in this case going forward.

More on this story here.