Geoffrey Boycott’s case used to explain the pitfalls of joint ownership

Last week former straight talking England cricketer and well-known Yorkshireman, Geoffrey Boycott, appeared at the High Court in London seeking to sue a solicitor’s practice on the advice they gave him regarding joint ownership of a property.
Whilst Boycott lost his case he had expressed his view that the law surrounding joint ownership of property is unclear and “double dutch”. Mr Justice Vos, hearing the case, himself acknowledged the “obscurity” of property law which dates back 300 years.
The case centres on Boycott’s purchase in 1996 of property purchased for £450,000 now valued at £3 million. Boycott purchased the property with his then partner, Anne Wyatt, and it was put into their joint names as ‘joint tenants’.
Boycott claimed that it came as somewhat of a shock to him that the joint tenancy could be severed. So in 2009 on the death of his former partner he discovered that she had two years earlier unilaterally changed the joint ownership to a tenancy in common and had bequeathed her half share of the property to her niece. It is Mr Boycott’s case that he and Ms Wyatt had agreed that upon their deaths their respective shares would pass to the other. He says that had he known that the ownership could be altered he would never have bought the property with Ms Wyatt, who had continued to live in the property rent-free.
To change the ownership of a property from a joint tenancy to a tenancy in common one party must ‘serve’ upon the other a Notice of Severance in accordance with section 36(2) of the Law of Property Act 1925. Section 196 of that Act sets out the method of ‘service’ which essentially means sending a written document to the co-owner at their last known home or business address. It need not be acknowledged by the co-owner.
In Mr Boycott’s case, in which he is making a claim against his solicitors who dealt with the purchase, he claims that it was a “huge surprise” to him to discover on Ms Wyatt’s death that she had unilaterally changed the ownership of the property to a tenancy in common and had left her share to her niece.  Ultimately Boycott lost the case with the Mail reporting that the “judge criticised him for giving ‘three completely different answers to the same question’.”
Rogers and Norton appear to be amongst one of the first firms to use this case to bring alive issues that clients need to be aware of when making decisions as to how they own property jointly.
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