Proprietary Estoppel

There is an interesting case on proprietary estoppel which has been reported recently. In 1976, a Nigerian Chief, Ferdinand Anaghara purchased a house in London, registered in his own name. Since 1984 it has been occupied by a lady described as his “statutory wife”, Alice (he had other “customary wives” to whom he was also married under Nigerian law). The Chief apparently told Alice on a number of occasions that it was “her house” and expected her to pay the outgoings on it. Her three children also lived there and one of them, Ike moved back in as an adult with his wife (above). The Chief died in 2007 and a dispute. arose when the administrators of his estate wished to repossess the property. Normally in these cases a spouse could make a claim for family provision, but since the Chief was not UK-domiciled, no such claim could be made against his estate. Alice’s lawyers instead made the claim that the property had become hers by reason of a constructive trust and/or proprietary estoppel. The first claim was rejected but the second accepted by the High Court. On the facts, promises had been made to Alice and she had relied on them to her detriment, by not buying another property for her own use and by spending £5000 on a new boiler for the property, among other maintenance and redecoration expenses. The result was that Alice is to enjoy the right to live in the property for the rest of her life.

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