405 Mass. 365 (1989).

One-Sentence Takeaway: Absent consideration or reliance, there is no injustice in declining to enforce an oral promise against an estate.

Summary: After a rabbi visited the decedent during his illness, the decedent orally promised to leave $25,000 to the Congregation.  The Congregation planned to use the $25,000 to transform a storage room in the synagogue into a library named after the decedent.  After the decedent passed away, his estate refused to pay and the Congregation sued to enforce the oral promise.

The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts held that the decedent’s estate was not committed by a $25,000 oral charitable subscription.  The court distinguished earlier cases where promises were enforced “because they involved written, as distinguished from oral, promises and also involved substantial consideration or reliance.”  The court determined that the Congregation’s inclusion of the promised sum in its budget did not constitute the required reliance to enforce the promise.

Finally, the court ruled that enforcing an oral promise against an estate would be against public policy.

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