Life interest ruling upheld on basis of expectation

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The case of Anaghara v Anaghara & Ors [2020] highlights the principles regarding expectation and proprietary estoppel.

The late Ferdinand Anagahara, known as ‘the Chief’ to reflect his status in his native Nigeria, had one statutory wife, Grace, and two customary wives, Alice and Benedith.

Alice had lived in their matrimonial home continuously since 1984, initially with their three children and then later with their son and his wife. During this time, the Chief mainly resided in Nigeria whilst Alice remained in the UK to maintain the property and cover outgoings.

Alice continued to live in the property following the death of the Chief in 2007. However, in 2018, Obinna, the son of Benedith and the Chief, who was a personal representative of the estate, served notices to quit on the occupants.

In the initial case, although Alice’s defence that the property was held on a constructive trust for her was dismissed, she was granted a life interest to it. In granting life interest, the Court had considered representations made by the Chief that the property was “her house”.

Obinna appealed against this judgment on the following grounds:

  • That the Judge had awarded a life interest in line with Alice’s expectations rather than to satisfy the equity.
  • That the Court should not have met the expectation, which Obinna argued was extravagant or disproportionate to the detriment suffered and demonstrated by the fact that Alice was awarded a life interest with a commercial value of £30,000 per year.

Whilst the Court of Appeal accepted that the function of relief in proprietary estoppel cases was to satisfy the equity rather than the expectation, nonetheless the nature of that expectation is significant.

The Court cited the decision in Davies v Davies [2016] which used a sliding scale in this regard. The scale identifies that the weight given to the expectation should depend upon its clarity, the length of time it has been held, and the extent of the detriment. On this basis, the Judge found that considerable weight should be given to the fact that, since 1984, Alice expected that she could live in the property for life based on the representations of the Chief and which had never been contradicted.

Therefore, the Court of Appeal dismissed Obinna’s appeal as the granting life interest in the property was proportionate and satisfied Alice’s expectation.

The judgment can be read in full here