Keeping out of the Courts - Farming Disputes
Every now and then, there is in every farming community a major fall-out within a family and disagreement regarding who should inherit the farm.
There are many reasons for this. The people involved in the dispute may be eyeing a farm which includes enormously valuable land, not least if some of it has development potential, but those people may themselves have very low incomes. Members of the family who have worked on the farm may have done so for no or very little money, perhaps over decades, in the expectation that they will one day inherit the farm, and the announcement that they are not going to do so may come as extremely unwelcome news.
Farmers have to protect their farms and make them successful despite all the odds and that often makes them extremely determined people. They occasionally dig their heels in and find it difficult to compromise.
Farming disputes involving land, and often concerning partnerships, are extremely expensive to resolve through litigation if they are not nipped in the bud fairly early on. If the case went to trial, each side might spend £100,000 on their own lawyers. The loser could end up paying their own fees and most of the winner’s legal bill, i.e. over £150,000. It is vital to avoid spending that sort of money if at all possible.
The key to avoiding this sort of dispute and expense is early communication within the family. If everyone knows what is going to happen on a farmer's death, and if by the time the farmer dies they have known that for many years, they will hopefully have got used to the idea. They will also have had the opportunity to speak to the farmer about it while he or she was alive, and they may then be willing to accept the farmer’s decisions. Nobody likes unpleasant surprises, and if family members find out what is going to happen only after the farmer has died, that may be hard to swallow.
If a disagreement does arise, it is vital that there are effective discussions, supported by professionals, as quickly as possible so that a substantial row is defused and does not go off.
In the end, you may find that it is your family which is the one which has a bust-up in your community and is the unlucky farm which is caught up in such a big dispute that afterwards it has to be sold. If you are careful and act early, though, you should be able to make sure that that does not happen to you.