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Promises To Leave Property In Wills Or At Death: Are These Binding Contracts?


Imagine you perform work or a service for someone. That someone doesn’t have money to pay you, but they do promise that they will leave you a part of their property upon death or include you in a will or other estate document. They pass away, but to your surprise, they didn’t follow through with their promise, and you are left with nothing.

Unfulfilled Promises

When that doesn’t happen—when the verbal promise to leave something to someone else in a will goes unfulfilled—the promisee may want to sue under the verbal agreement in order to enforce the promise made to them: that property, assets or money would be left to whomever performed the services.

Of course the family or beneficiaries of the deceased, who were included in the deceased’s will, are certainly likely to challenge you; if that verbal promise to you is fulfilled, that is less of the inheritance that they stand to inherit.

Are these verbal promises enforceable?

Verbal Wills

As a general rule, verbal contracts, with some exceptions, are enforceable promises. The problem with an inheritance however is that when one person promises to leave something to another upon death, what that person is actually doing is creating a verbal will (or verbal amendment to an existing will).

However, by law, in Florida wills need to be in writing to be enforceable (they also need to have two witnesses). This makes verbal promises to leave things to someone else in a will, unenforceable.

Courts also don’t like verbal wills, because of proof problems; one party to the verbal promise is now gone, making it near impossible to prove what was promised or not promised outside of there being something in writing.

If there is some kind of writing—even if not an official writing—the person who was promised something could challenge the administration of the estate and seek to enforce the written document, in order to enforce the promise made to them.

Some Exceptions

Note that if the person making the promise to leave something to someone else upon death did live in a state where verbal wills are enforceable there may be an argument supporting enforcement of the promise.

Additionally, remember that only the verbal promise between the deceased and the other person who was promised property, is unenforceable. Other verbal promises as between two people who stand to inherit from a will, may be enforceable.

So, for example, if person A and person B both verbally agree that they will share in whatever they are both left in the will upon the death of person C, that verbal agreement may be enforceable—that is a verbal agreement to split money or property, and has nothing to do with the creation or amendment of a will.

Call our Fort Lauderdale business lawyers at Sweeney Law P.A. at 954-440-3993 today for help enforcing your contracts and agreements.



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