In certain circumstances ownership rights or rights to compensation can arise where one party promises another that that other will one day become entitled to ownership rights, and that other acts to his detriment in reliance on that promise. This is known as proprietary estoppel.
A typical scenario is where a farmer promises one of his children that “one day all of this will be yours” and the child then works on the farm for many years at below standard rates of pay, waiting for the day when ownership will be transferred, perhaps by will.
But this type of remedy is by no means restricted to families and farms. In the right circumstances in the commercial world similar outcomes may arise.
On a slightly different legal basis (resulting in what is known as a constructive trust) where one intended joint venture partner acquires for himself the asset that was intended to be used by both parties in the joint venture, and then refuses to allow the other intended joint venture partner to benefit from the venture, in certain circumstances the asset-owning party may be required to hold that asset in trust for both parties. See more on this here.
As an alternative to either of these outcomes, the court will often award compensation for the value of the lost opportunity and/or make an award for the value of the services rendered and/or the return of the monies invested by the aggrieved party.
I have pursued a number of such claims on behalf of clients.