In a ruling which drew a clear distinction between a relationship of love, affection and trust and one involving undue influence, the High Court has ruled that a ‘poor and ignorant’ farm hand knew his own mind when he gave almost everything he owned to the land-owning family he had served for more than 60 years.
Wynne Evans was aged 14 when he went to work for the Lloyd family on their farm in mid-Wales. From that day until his death at the age of 79, in 2006, he served the family faithfully. However, he was not entirely without means, having inherited two valuable small-holdings from his older brother.
Prior to his death, Wynne gave his land, his only asset of any value, to the owners of the farm, David Lloyd and his wife, Elizabeth. Wynne’s surviving twin brother, Howell would have inherited the land had his sibling not given it away. Howell was too frail to play any part in the legal action, but the brothers’ cousin, Bernard Evans, and his wife Helen challenged Wynne’s gift to Mr and Mrs Lloyd, claiming that the couple had brought undue influence to bear upon him.
Bernard and Helen, who were the sole beneficiaries of Howell’s will and held a power of attorney over his affairs, insisted that Wynne was in a vulnerable, subservient and dependent relationship with Mr and Mrs Lloyd and argued that a presumption of undue influence arose and that his gift should be rescinded. The Lloyds were also accused of ‘unconscionable conduct’ in taking no steps to dissuade Wynne from his generosity or to encourage him to take independent legal advice.
However, in exonerating Mr and Mrs Lloyd ‘without any regret’, The Court found them ‘thoroughly decent people’ and noted that Wynne ‘would be turning in his grave’ if he knew that his gift to the couple had come under challenge.
Wynne had worked for Mr Lloyd’s parents and grandparents before him and, from his early teens, had never lived anywhere else but the family farm. He was already in his 30s when Mr Lloyd was born and was viewed as one of the family. His life had revolved entirely around the farm and the Lloyd family had paid him an agricultural wage until he reached retirement age.
It was beyond doubt that Wynne’s relationship with the Lloyd family had been very close. However, the Court found that he was also ‘an independent-minded man’ and a ‘farmer through and through’ who understandably wished his land to continue to form part of the wider farm. He had been motivated by ‘strong ties of affection’ and the powerful ‘family bond’ between him and the Lloyds and, although ‘poor and ignorant’ and less well-educated than his employers, the gift had, from his point of view, ‘benefitted his family’, the Court concluded.