Neighbour to get half of 76-acre farm

Half of a 76 acre farm owned by a bachelor who died intestate in 2009 must go to a neighbour who worked at substantial underpayment for the deceased for 38 years, the High Court ruled.

Neighbour to get half of 76-acre farm

Gerard Finnegan, aged 57, is also entitled to half the value of the stock and machinery of the late James Gartland, 79, who owned the dairy and dry stock breeding farm at Broomfield, Castleblaney, Co Monaghan, Mr Justice Michael White said.

The other half goes to Mr Gartland’s surviving relatives, who include his brother Eugene and sisters, Margaret, Rosie, Bridget, and Kathleen.

Mr Finnegan had brought a claim against Mr Gartland’s sister, Margaret Hand, Lough Egish, Castleblaney, as administratrix of her brother’s estate. He claimed a constructive trust existed in his favour in relation to the entire farm.

Mr Justice White found such a trust did arise.

This was based on numerous promises to Mr Finnegan that he would be rewarded in the future with an interest in the farm after he spent a substantial part of his adult life working the farm, putting in long hours for substantial underpayment, the judge said.

The court heard Mr Finnegan, a married father of three, lived in his family farm house near Mr Gartland.

The house was substandard and after they were offered a council house in 1987 in Carrickmacross, and refused it, Mr Gartland gifted them a site on his farm where they built a new house with a bank mortgage.

Mr Justice White said that despite “some problems” with Mr Finnegan’s credibility, he accepted his evidence that on different occasions the deceased “both directly and obliquely” led him to believe he would be a beneficiary in his will.

There was no evidence of active efforts to make a will but discussions between Mr Gartland and his accountant suggest that if he made a will it would be in favour of his nieces and nephews, the judge said.

When the evidence was examined in its totality, the judge had little doubt Mr Gartland was “prepared to make promises which he did not necessarily intend to keep to ensure the plaintiff continued to work for him and that he enjoyed the comfort and companionship of the plaintiff’s family”.

Due to Mr Gartland’s behaviour in holding out to him that he would be rewarded in the future, it would be “unconscionable that the estate would accrue in its entirety to the blood relations of the deceased”, he said.

The judge also ruled any money in Mr Gartland’s bank accounts should go to his next of kin and Mr Finnegan would have to give €10,000 to the estate as credit for the value of the house site Mr Gartland had gifted to him.

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