Is An Oral Contract for a Will or Gift Valid in Probate Law?

Oftentimes in inheritance proceedings, potential beneficiaries claim that oral contracts were made with the decedent for the distribution of the estate. In California law, oral contracts can be considered valid, but there are many caveats. In this video, California probate attorney Charles Triay explains how an oral contract could be considered valid in probate law.

Video Transcription:

Is the oral promise to make a gift or to make a will? This is an enforceable legal theory in California. Very difficult cases to prove. First of all, the legislature tried to get rid of these cases several times saying if you don’t have something in writing signed, you don’t have a case. And the judges said, well, wait a minute, if I promise you that if you work on the farm for no wages for 20 years, I’ll leave the farm to you, and you do work on the farm for 20 years for no wages, now you’re out? That’s fraud! So, the judiciary and the legislature fought over this issue for years.

The current version is that you can prove it, but you have to have clear and convincing evidence and you have to have something more than your own testimony. You have to have something, something in writing that refers to it or some other witnesses. If I tell you I’m gonna leave you my house, that’s not a contract, that’s a statement of my intention and I’m free to change my intention at any time. And you’re not out anything. I mean, you maybe expected to get it and now you’re disappointed, but you’re not out any money or labor or anything. But if I tell you, hey, if you will quit your job and come live with me and take care of me for the rest of my life, then I’ll leave you my house, and you say okay, and you do, and yeah, and you quit your job and you move in and you take care of me for however long it is and then I don’t leave you my house, either because I didn’t get around to it or I change my mind, then you’ve been ripped off and so you do have a cause of action.

The court has the flexibility in those cases to either give him the house or to give you an adequate monetary compensation. So, let’s say, for example, I tell you if you move in with me and take care of me for the rest of my life, I’ll leave you my house. You move in with me, but then I die you’re later and you’re gonna get a million dollar house for one year at work, the judge can say well, you know, I’m gonna adjust that. But they are viable cases, but they do require clear evidence. For more information, call me at (888) 594-9733 or visit my website at TriayLaw.com

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