Friday, March 27, 2009

Sweat Equity

From the Salem News comes a story of two sisters who believed that they stood to inherit the Devereux School where they worked for their aunt for 30 years. For 30 years, they labored at Devereux School on Smith Street, accepting what they saw as "below-market" wages in exchange for promises from Aunt Mildred Dooling, that the building and the land would be theirs.

Yet, when Dooling died at age 80 in May 2003, the two women said they were shocked to learn that six other nieces and nephews were named as equals in her will. In other words, the estate was to be divided into eight matching parts.

So now a legal battle ensues. The will has been declared valid, and apparently incompetency or undue influence are not issues. The sisters are persisting based on verbal contract and are describing themselves as creditors of the estate. According to their attorneys the two sisters did everything at the school. Their principle job was teaching, but they also did the administrative work, janitorial, landscaping, snow removal, etc. If they knew they weren't going to be provided for they claim the could have received better pay along with benefits, somewhere else.

Across the pond a very similar situation has been reported out of Sommerset, England. The House of Lords reversed the lower court ruling against a David Thorner, a farmer who has been fighting to inherit his cousin Peter Thorner's farm worth £2m where he worked unpaid for 30 years.

Peter originally left the farm to David Thorner in a 1997 will but later revoked the will and didn't make another before he died in 2005. In July last year the Court of Appeal ruled he could not inherit the farm, and said it should go to Peter Thorner's three sisters and niece.

The Law Lords said no. Peter Thorner had led David to believe he would take over the farm. It was proved that he worked up to 18 hours a day for no years and was not paid for it. They ruled he should inherit the farm.

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