THE CASE OF THE UNFULFILLED PROMISE
Jason, age ninety, had a very valuable violin collection. He was helped by a niece Susan, who was an excellent violinist. Just prior to making a new will, Jason told his niece that he was going to give her the collection. â€œItâ€™s yours,â€ he said, adding that he would hold on to the collection for safekeeping. He also sent Susan a letter in which he said, â€œI give you my violin collection that I have held for you for safekeeping, and when I die, it will be yours.â€
Jason died four weeks later. In his will, which did not refer to the violins, he left his entire estate to his two children. Susan brought suit against the estate to have the violin collection declared her property.
Susan testified at the trial about the help she had given her uncle over a period of fifteen years. She produced the letter her uncle had sent her and recalled their many conversations during which her uncle had promised to give her the violins. She played the violins when she was at Jasonâ€™s house but kept them there for safekeeping. There was additional testimony that Jasonâ€™s children had never even picked up a violin and had been estranged from their father for years.
The Arguments at Trial
Susan attorney argued that the collection belonged to Susan because Jason had gifted the violins to Susan during Jasonâ€™s lifetime and that there was symbolic delivery. He further argued that Jasonâ€™s keeping possession of the violins was solely to protect them and in no way invalidated the gift. He also argued that to deprive. Susan of the collection that her uncle obviously wanted to give her would be unfair.
The childrenâ€™s attorney argued that the will was validly executed and promises made orally or in writing do not constitute valid gifts. They further argued that actual and not symbolic delivery is an essential requirement for a gift to be deemed valid.
Questions to Discuss
- Who has the stronger argument, Susan or Jasonâ€™s children? Why?
- If you were the jury hearing this case, for whom would you decide? Why?
- Should considerations of fairness and the intentions of the person making the will take precedence over a validly executed will?
- What problems do you think could arise if oral or written promises were considered under the circumstances of this case?
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