Estate disputes: Man awarded property share after agreement to pool assets

Claims for proprietary estoppel or relating to constructive trusts often arise in the context of inheritance disputes or will disputes.

In the case of Culliford and another v Thorpe [2018] EWHC 426 (Ch) the claimant started a claim on both grounds.

In this recent case, the siblings of Rodney Culliford (deceased), issued a repossession claim against the deceased’s boyfriend, Jocelyn Thorpe, who was living in the deceased’s property.  The deceased died unexpectedly in December 2016 without making a will.

Jocelyn Thorpe filed a defence and counterclaim for a declaration of interest in the property by way of a constructive trust and/or proprietary estoppel.

The High Court rejected the possession claim and upheld Mr Thorpe’s counterclaim. The Judge ruled that Mr Thorpe had carried out significant building works at the property and that he would not have done had he and the deceased not agreed to pool their resources.

Rodney Culliford met Jocelyn Thorpe in July 2010. They started a relationship which became serious very quickly. The deceased had worked as a flight attendant and travelled frequently for his job. Mr Thorpe travelled with the deceased to Hong Kong and Los Angeles in late 2010. After the couple returned from their travels, they started living together at the deceased’s property in Weston-super-Mare (“the Weston property”) although many of Mr Thorpe’s belongings were still at his family home in Devon.

In April 2012, Mr Thorpe’s father passed away and consequently, he was informed that he had inherited part of his estate, to include a share of a property in Devon (“the Devon property”).

In May 2012, during a journey to collect Mr Thorpe’s furniture from the Devon property, the couple discussed their future together and given Mr Thorpe’s anticipated inheritance, they decided to pool their resources. The discussions between the parties were noted as follows:

The deceased told Mr Thorpe “This is it, it is time we joined forces properly.”

They agreed that they would share their properties and their other assets, so that, as Mr Thorpe put it in evidence (although he attributed the words to the deceased) “What’s mine is yours, and what’s yours is mine.”

The couple intended to improve the Weston property, using Mr Thorpe’s inheritance money with a view to renting it out. They then planned to move into the Devon property together.

The agreement reached between the pair was informal and was not recorded or formalised. However, there was third party witness evidence confirming that the deceased had discussed his plans openly in front of others.

Mr Thorpe proceeded to carry out extensive refurbishment works at the Weston property. He had some experience in building, as well as many builder contacts who he drafted in to assist. The works included painting, knocking the kitchen and dining room into one, installing a new kitchen, re-plastering and replacement of doors and radiators. The works took approximately 2 years to complete and the expert evidence confirmed that such works increased the value of the Weston property by £30,000. Mr Thorpe also carried out extensive renovation works at the Devon Property.

The judge made an order for Mr Thorpe to receive 50% of the Weston property due to the couples’ agreement to share that property/ the assurances that the deceased had made and because of Mr Thorpe’s detrimental reliance upon the agreement/assurances by carrying out the building works in question.

If you would like to discuss a proprietary estoppel/constructive trust claim whether in the context of a will dispute or inheritance dispute or otherwise, please contact our contentious probate solicitors on 01902 424927. Alternatively, you can e-mail us at providing a brief summary of the issues you wish to discuss with us, along with your contact details.