Nearly twenty years after it was announced, the Washington court has amplified an announced intention to enforce stringent technical rules in its consideration of oral contracts to devise. In an action for specific performance of his deceased employer's alleged oral contract to devise realty, plaintiff presented an uncontroverted line of evidence dating from 1937. At that time plaintiff was a friend and neighbor of decedent and her husband, and was employed as a logger at a wage of $5.60 per day. Shortly after the husband's death, plaintiff left his logging job and commenced operation of decedent's farm for $1.50 per day plus board and room. Three months later his wages were reduced to $.50 per day, and remained at that figure until mortgages on the property were satisfied in 1942. The wage of $1.50 per day was then reinstated and continued 19 years. During this 24 year period, plaintiff took only one vacation "that amounted to anything"; the rest of his time was spent working on decedent's property. Plaintiff, at his own expense, erected permanent farm buildings in 1949 and 1958 on decedent's property rather than on his own adjoining property. "A considerable time" prior to her death in 1961, decedent made out a holographic will devising her farm to plaintiff, but failed to sign it. Nine neighbors of decedent gave undisputed testimony of her intention to devise the farm to plaintiff. A neighbor who contacted decedent about acquiring a right of way across her property was referred to plaintiff to see if he would agree. However, no witness was able to testify as to the existence of an express contract between plaintiff and decedent. The trial court decreed specific performance and defendant administrator appealed. Held: Following death of the alleged promisor, circumstantial evidence is not sufficient to establish an oral contract to devise. Bicknell v. Guenther, 65 Wash. Dec.2d 726, 399 P.2d 598 (1965).
Washington Case Law,
Contracts—Property—Evidence—Oral Contracts to Devise,
Wash. L. & Rev.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.law.uw.edu/wlr/vol40/iss2/13