Don’t Even Think About Doing a Property Deal Without Legal Advice!

Property purchases are, for the majority of people, the highest value deals that they ever enter into and that is why they should never be reached in haste or without expert legal advice. The point was powerfully made a case in which an amateurish, home-made, agreement led to years of costly strife between family members.

Due to concerns that the opportunity to purchase a property might otherwise be lost, the agreement was created in a hurry, without the assistance of a solicitor. It stated that a woman had put £150,000 towards the purchase of a house by her step-son and his wife (the couple), that the money was not an interest-free loan and that she would have a share in the property to reflect the value of her contribution.

After a family rift developed, the woman launched proceedings. A judge rejected the couple’s claim that the agreement was a forgery and ruled that she was entitled to a 37.5 per cent stake in the house. He ordered a sale of the property and that the woman be paid her share from the net proceeds of sale. Responsibility for discharging the mortgage on the property fell on the couple alone.

In challenging that outcome, the couple argued that the woman’s claim should have been dismissed in its entirety because she had not come to court with clean hands. She had confessed during the trial of the case that she had forged her deceased husband’s will, appointing herself as his executor and beneficiary. He had in fact died intestate and most of the money that she contributed to the house purchase therefore did not belong to her, but to the estate.

The High Court acknowledged in the form of a declaration that the woman held that part of her stake in the property attributable to her purported inheritance from her husband on trust for his estate. However, in dismissing the couple’s appeal, the Court noted that the step-son held his interest in his father’s estate in a different capacity to his interest in the property.

The woman had also put some of her own money towards the purchase and the estate, rather than her stepson, was the principal victim of her act of forgery. The agreement accurately stated the amount of her contribution and it was not rendered unenforceable by the fact that not all of that money belonged to her. Neither the judge’s division of the sale proceeds, nor his order that the couple pay 70 per cent of the legal costs of the case, could be criticised.

Ball & Anr v De Marzo. Case Number: CH-2019-000079