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Giving Away or Selling Land? Legal Informality Is Simply Not An Option!

Benefactors are perfectly entitled to give away their worldly goods. However, as one case concerning an agricultural smallholding showed, the law treats land differently from anything else and it can only be donated or otherwise disposed of by deed.farm gate

The occupier of the 2.5-acre smallholding used it for keeping chickens and cutting wood. He claimed that the land’s owner had given it to him before his death, and that the only condition attached to the gift was that, if he sold the property, half of the proceeds should go to the deceased’s grandchildren. After the deceased’s executors sought to register the land on behalf of his estate, the smallholder objected.

In ruling on the dispute, the First-tier Tribunal (FTT) accepted that the smallholder held a genuine belief that he had been given the land. He had, however, put forward no convincing explanation for the deceased’s generosity. There was an element of wishful thinking on the smallholder’s part and he had misunderstood what the deceased had said to him during the critical conversation. The evidence did not establish that the deceased had ever intended to make a gift of the land.

The FTT noted that, since at least the Statute of Frauds 1677, English law has required that gifts or other dispositions of land must be in writing and signed by the donor. The Law of Property Act 1925 also requires that any conveyance of a legal estate in land must be by deed. The lack of any such formalities in respect of the alleged gift was ultimately fatal to the smallholder’s claim. The decision meant that the executors would be registered as owners of the land.

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