A farmer’s wife took advantage of her husband’s dementia in a bid to prevent their son inheriting £10m, a judge has ruled.
Pamela Moore even accused her son Stephen of violent harassment in her fight to stop him taking over the family farm in Wiltshire from his father, Roger.
But High Court judge Simon Monty QC said Stephen had toiled since childhood on Manor Farm, Stapleford, near Salisbury, a 263ha farm which has been in the Moore family for generations.
The father-of-two took no expensive holidays, lived a frugal lifestyle with his family in a bungalow on the estate and earned less than £300/week.
In his ruling, the judge said before Alzheimer’s disease robbed him of his sharp mind and began to take hold in 2008, his father had repeatedly promised him: “It will be all yours one day”.
Judge Monty handed Stephen, 48, the entire farm, including its substantial farmhouse, explaining that he was entitled to rely on the assurances given to him by his father.
The court heard that Pamela considered it would be unfair on their daughter, Julie, if Stephen inherited the whole farm, by far the family’s biggest asset.
‘Son promised the farm’
But the judge said: “It was always Roger’s intention that Stephen would inherit the farm and the business, and that intention was shared by Pamela.
“These intentions were expressed as promises to Stephen. Particularly after 2009, Pamela took advantage of Roger’s mental decline, which in my view does her no credit.
“She was and remains determined to redress what she regarded as a stark inequality of likely inheritance between Stephen and Julie.”
Pamela, the judge added, had “unfairly portrayed Stephen as a violent and difficult son who made her and Roger’s life a misery”.
By 2009, Roger was suffering from serious memory loss and his increasing sense of uselessness led him to comment: “I might as well shoot myself.”
‘Passion for farming’
But, as Stephen grew up, he had encouraged him to work on Manor Farm and passed on to his son his “passion for farming”.
Stephen spent three years at agricultural college and had “thrown himself wholeheartedly into working on the farm”.
Roger changed his will in 2012, disinheriting Stephen of the farm, but the judge said that, by then, Roger was “playing very little part in events”.
The judge said of Stephen: “He clearly loves his father and has always looked up to him.
“By contrast, his relationship with Pamela has always been a difficult one… sad to say, relations between them had been difficult since Stephen’s childhood.”
Stephen, he said, had worked on the farm since childhood and now “in effect runs the farm, as Roger is too ill to participate”.
‘No plans to cash in’
Stephen told the court: “If I were to cash in I would be a very wealthy man, but I have no intention of cashing in.
“If we have a good year, we might be able to afford a holiday or a new car. If not, then so be it.”
Judge Monty ordered that the farming partnership between father and son should be dissolved “because of Roger’s ill health”.
Roger’s share of the farm will be transferred to Stephen, although his parents can continue drawing an income and living in the farmhouse for as long as they need to.
The judge concluded: “This is a just and equitable outcome. It honours what Roger always intended.
“It means the farm can continue to be farmed by the next generation of the Moore family as Roger always intended.”