A woman has lost a Court of Appeal case because she claimed she did not receive her full quarter share of her father’s IR£243,000 (€308,000) estate after he died in 1987 when she was 17.
atriona Cunniffe also claimed her brother Michael and sister Martina had broken an agreement that she was entitled to reside at their former family home in Lisdeligney, Killimor, Ballinasloe, Co Galway for as long as she wanted and as a result , she suffered personal injury.
Her father, farmer Patrick Joseph Cunniffe, died intestate in September 1987. He was predeceased by his wife. The couple had four children.
The net worth of the property was IR£243,870, the majority of which comprised the residential farm valued at IR£91,000 and around IR£126,000 in deposits and financial investments.
Catriona was the youngest and Martina, at 21, the oldest and became the administrator of the estate. Michael took over management of the farm and was assisted by his brother Padraic until Padraic moved to London.
Catriona completed her Leaving Cert after the death of her father and went to University College Galway where she earned a BA degree, her fees being paid by Michael who also provided an allowance during term time.
In 2016, Catriona brought proceedings in the High Court against Martina and Michael, alleging, among other things, breach of duty, breach of the Probate Act and negligent misrepresentation and/or misrepresentation of the estate when she was a minor.
While Catriona said at the time after the death that it was agreed within the family that it would have been her father’s wish for Michael to have the farm, she was always reassured by both Michael and Martina that she was entitled to full access to the farm would have family home..
Catriona said she looked forward to returning to the family home during her teenage years, 20 and 30, and considered it her primary residence until 2004.
However, over a long period of time she said she felt less and less welcome and around 2003 Michael cut off the house’s water supply and removed the solid fuel stove, making the house unlivable.
Catriona, who was a vegetarian, also said Michael attacked her core values by hanging carcasses of butchered deer and sheep in the old back kitchen. In 2004 she moved to Craughwell, Galway.
In their defense, Michael and Martina both dismissed their claims, arguing that she brought the case outside of the statutory time limit imposed by the statute of limitations.
Martina also denied that information about the administration was withheld, and she said Catriona never expressed any concerns or dissatisfaction with the estate’s administration before launching her lawsuit.
Just prior to Martina’s marriage in 1995, a “Family Settlement Deed” was drawn up to attempt to complete the estate and formally transferred the farm to Michael.
Martina’s solicitor had told the High Court that Catriona was paid a total of IR£39,076 under that instrument between August 1988 and ‘the early 2000s’ when her father’s investments were due.
Catriona claimed she has no recollection of signing the document or the circumstances surrounding it. She also suggested that since the document was incomplete and undated and her signature had not been witnessed, it was not a legal document.
The High Court had previously ruled that Catriona’s claims of misrepresentation and personal injury were statute-barred as she was aware of the difficulties when trouble with Michael over the family home first arose in 2003/04 and obliged her was to bring her case within six years of that time.
The High Court had also separately dismissed her fraud allegation in relation to the signing of the family agreement, which she had never seen until 2019.
Catriona then took her case to the Court of Appeal, arguing that the High Court erred in law. Michael and Martina opposed the complaint.
Mr Justice Senan Allen, speaking on behalf of the three-judge Court of Appeal, said Catriona had shown no fault on the part of the High Court.
He said the legislative policy of the statute of limitations was to “prevent the lawsuit over stale claims,” and that Catriona’s claims “long preceded” the claim she made in 2016.
https://www.independent.ie/business/farming/news/courts/woman-loses-appeal-court-battle-with-elder-siblings-over-244000-farm-estate-of-father-who-died-in-1987-42186320.html Woman loses appeals court battle with older siblings over £244,000 farm estate owned by her father, who died in 1987