Promises made among family members rarely end up involving the legal system. But when they do, there tends to be valuable lessons which, if heeded, can help people avoid considerable hassle and headache. The case of Greiner v Greiner (1930) is an interesting example of a promise made between family members gone awry.
Though the facts of Greiner are unlikely to be replicated today, the case is still a good point of reference. In particular for family members who are considering giving something of great value away to family or a close friend.
Real estate owners in particular should pay close attention so that they can avoid the ordeal which the Greiner family had to experience.
Greiner v Greiner: The Case
Mrs. Greiner inherited a large piece of land following the death of her husband. She made a promise to her son, Frank Greiner, allowing him to have a small portion of the land if he moved his family to the property indefinitely.
Over time, Frank Greiner made improvements to the property and eventually asked Mrs. Greiner for a deed. Mrs. Greiner refused to give the deed and soon thereafter brought suit against her son in the hope of forcibly removing him from the premises.
Mrs. Greiner argued before the court that a valid contract had not been made and therefore forcible removal was warranted. On the other hand, Frank Greiner argued he had relied on the promise his mother made to such an extent that forcible removal would be unjust.
What’s the law say?
The rule of promissory estoppel was triggered even though no formal contract was established. The doctrine of promissory estoppel states that when a person relies on a promise — to their detriment — that promise is enforceable by law.
Court rules in favor of the defendant: Greiner
The court (Supreme Court of Kansas) ruled that the doctrine of promissory estoppel applied given the facts of the case. It was reasonable to expect that Frank Greiner to uproot himself. He not only abided by the promise, but proceeded to make valuable improvements to the property. Mrs. Greiner’s promise made Frank Greiner do these things. And since he reasonably relied on the promise in this manner the promise should be enforceable by law. The court granted the land to Frank Greiner.
As Greiner v Greiner illustrates, one has to be very careful when making promises involving things of exceptional value. This applies to promises between family members as well. If you’re a real estate owner, be very careful before you promise any part of your land to someone else!
Image by Alexandr Podvalny