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To inherit or not to inherit?

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First of all forgive me if this is the wrong type of website to post this enquiry. I realise it is about consumer issues. But a member of a different legal website suggested posting here, given the residing collective of legal knowledge.

I am an only child and now both of my parents have passed away, my mother more recently in March of this year just prior to the lockdown.

I am both the sole beneficiary and executor of her will. But I believe inheriting her estate will not be straightforward and possibly not even in my best interest.

Here is the necessary background context.

My late grandmother (on my mothers side) owned a significant amount of farming land in Norfolk adjoining the Norfolk Broads. Initially there was only one permanent house on this farmland, a typical farmhouse.

As my grandmother grew older it became obvious she would need ongoing care. So in 1995, several years prior to her death, she made a deed of gift (prepared by solicitors) to my parents of a small piece of land adjacent to the farmhouse and surrounded by the wider farmland owned by my grandmother. It was just enough land to erect a new dwelling with its own garden, thus allowing my parents to be on hand for her care needs.

However, given the location of the farmland, inside the protected Norfolk Broads area and also within a historical floodplain, achieving permission for the proposed new property was not straightforward.

The local Norfolk Broads Authority would only grant permission for a mobile home (think prefab chalet style not caravan) on the gifted land rather than a permanent brick dwelling. Even then the permission came with several other conditions.

The mobile home had to be completely clad in dark wooden slats so it was similar to other traditional boat shed style chalets found on the Norfolk Broads. Consequently, and to its benefit, the final property looked a lot less like the typical mobile homes found on mobile home parks and much more a typical Norfolk Broads riverside building.

However the main stipulation was within 2 years of my grandmothers death the mobile home would need to be taken down.

My grandmother passed away in 2003 and my mother was still living in the property until her own death in March of this year. As far as I can tell, my parents were never approached by the Broads Authority iro removing the property.

Most of what Ive outlined came to light as my wife and I were going through my mothers personal effects and documents. It came as quite a shock.

Mainly due to lockdown, I have not started the probate process on my mothers estate. We are wondering if it is even worth me inheriting the property, given there might still be an enforceable requirement to take in down.

When the property was originally constructed in 1995 it cost approx. £50,000. I have no idea what the gifted land on its own is worth. It borders a Norfolk river that is busy with tourist boats in the summer, but has no mooring rights Im aware of. Incidentally my parents were paying council tax on the property for all of this period.

Given the size of the property, the cost of removing it and the eco-friendly disposal of all materials will most likely be in the thousands. There is a likelihood that any subsequent sale of the gifted land, once the property has been removed, may not amount to more than the actual cost of removing the property.

Finally, on the Land Registry website we have not been able to find any documents relating specifically to the land gifted to my parents. However, there appears to be more than one entry (or row) on the Land Registry register iro the wider farm land. One of these entries/rows has my parents surname as the property name (but not specifically as owners) and there is an official Important note stating: This row refers to a title that is duplicated elsewhere in the results table, as the title belongs to more than one property. There are three such entries (but only one relating to my parents) that have the same note. When we paid to download the documents relating to the entry bearing my parents surname, the title deed documents for the whole farm were returned. These documents dont mention my parents as the owners of the gifted land.

In an ideal world I would like to go ahead and inherit the property and thereafter rent it out for a number of years. Then perhaps 5+ years from now, if possible, I may chose to sell both the property and land together.

Obviously this is quite a complex matter and we anticipate engaging a solicitor could be very expensive in the long run.

So perhaps some of you could offer advice on the following:

  1. What is the first thing we should do? It is hard to even know where to start.
  2. As the Land Registry shows a number of properties sharing the same title, does that mean they all must have the same owner?
  3. If I decide to inherit the gifted land/property, how is this feasible when the Land Registry doesnt appear to show my parents as the official owners whilst only the deed of gift document does?
  4. As a follow on to 2., how do we set about registering my parents as the owners on the Land Registry? Do I have to apply for probate before doing this?
  5. Is there any other general advice anyone can offer?
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I agree that this may be outside the experience of this forum – but you never know who might come along.

I certainly agree that going to assist will be pretty expensive.

I think I would start looking at the law relating to adverse possession. The rules have changed recently and has become rather more onerous – but it used to be that if you adversely possess land – contrary to the wishes of the owner – then you would be entitled to register your own title to the land. I know that this isn't really on all fours with your situation – but it could be a starting point. Your grandmother died in 2003. The two years expiry was in 2005 and so that brings you well within the 12 years envisaged by the original adverse possession rules. I think there are also other rules in relation to people breaching certain planning et cetera regulations – I wonder whether it is something to do with four years that you breach the regulations – and then you have some kind of entitlement.

I would start researching a bit of this if I were you. I can imagine that if you went to a solicitor, this is the kind of thing they will be looking at as well.

It certainly a very interesting question – and even if we are help you, it would be very nice if you would keep us updated

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Thank you for the advice BankFodder. We will look into adverse possession. Yes, at a relevant milestone, I’d be happy to come back and share the progress we’ve made.

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