Claim under proprietary estoppel and constructive trust: father’s assurances to daughter

A father’s assurances to his daughter that she would have somewhere to live rent free for life, in context, were an assurance that ownership of the property would be transferred to her. Given detrimental reliance the daughter had successful claims based both on proprietary estoppel and constructive trust.

In Chan Gordon v Lee Wai Hing ([2011] HKEC 300) the defendant lived in a flat which was owned by her father and uncle as tenants in common. All three lived at the flat. The father made assurances to her that she would have somewhere to live rent free for life. The Court construed this as an assurance that he would transfer ownership of the property to her. The defendant paid a large part of her income to her father each month as maintenance. She paid for repairs to the property and for certain legal expenses relating to the property. This, the Court found, was a detriment that she incurred in reliance on the father’s promises. The uncle died and, some time later, her father died too.

The daughter’s claim to ownership of the property succeeded both on the basis of proprietary estoppel and of constructive trust. Claims based on Pennington v Waine (the father had made some attempt to transfer the property to her) and on donatio mortis causa failed. Her claim to her father’s cash based on resulting trust also failed.

Michael Lower

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