Earlier this year, my 5-year-old niece decided to cut her long hair and donate it to Locks of Love, an organization that uses donations of hair to create wigs for people whose medical issues preclude hair growth.
Perhaps the most thoughtful part of my niece’s gift came after her beautician explained where her hair donation would go. At that point, my sweet, little niece sincerely asked if the beautician could please offer the hair to me first. Of course, the lack of hair on my head is not due to a medical condition (other than male pattern baldness). Nonetheless, I was touched by my niece’s thoughtfulness.
Gifts and the law have a long history together. People sometimes promise to give gifts to others. If a promiser of a gift fails to actually make the gift (for whatever reason), there is typically no liability on the promiser for not following through.
For example, if I promise to buy breakfast for a friend but ultimately do not even show up to our scheduled meeting, my friend generally has no ability to collect the price of that breakfast from me (through a lawsuit or otherwise).
However, some promises actually are enforceable against the person making the promise. In order for a promise to be enforceable, the promise must either (a) include some reciprocal promise or valuable payment from the receiver to the promiser or (b) be reasonably relied upon by the receiver in a way that causes harm or damage to the receiver.
First, I may promise to buy “the next round” of adult beverages if my friend agrees to buy the first round of adult beverages. Once my friend paid for the first round, my promise to buy the second round became a part of an enforceable contract that I am legally bound to honor. If I failed to buy the next round as I promised, my friend would likely have legal justification to seek recovery from me.
Second, I could promise to buy my nephew a car for his birthday. Let’s presume that I told my nephew (accurately) that the car I was to buy him would need new tires and would not be roadworthy without new tires. In that instance, it would be reasonable for my nephew to purchase new tires for the car, potentially even before I deliver the car to him. So, my nephew reasonably relies upon my promise by buying the tires as he awaits the car’s delivery.
I then decide to not give my nephew the car. In that case, my nephew was reasonable in relying upon my promise, and my nephew’s reliance caused him financial harm because of the purchase of tires he no longer can use.
The multiple conditions required to make a promise or gift enforceable against the promiser shows the value of written agreements. Even if not legally required, written agreements can clarify that everybody affected understands that any particular promise or gift is enforceable like a contract.
Lee R. Schroeder is an Ohio licensed attorney at Schroeder Law LLC in Putnam County. He limits his practice to business, real estate, estate planning and agriculture issues in northwest Ohio. He can be reached at Lee@LeeSchroeder.com or at 419-659-2058. This article is not intended to serve as legal advice, and specific advice should be sought from the licensed attorney of your choice based upon the specific facts and circumstances that you face.