CHAPTER 16: THE WRITING REQUIREMENT IN OUR DIGITAL WORLD 9
An oral contract that is otherwise unenforceable under the Statute of Frauds may be
enforced on a theory of promissory estoppel. In that circumstance, a court will prevent a
promisor from refusing to comply with the terms of a deal that, for example, is not evidenced in
writing. The requirements for the application of this theory include the following:
1. A clear, definite promise.
3. The promisee’s reasonable reliance on the promise, as shown by he or she
taking some action or refraining from acting.
5. Enforcement of the promise to avoid injustice.
In this problem, Madeline Castellotti’s son Peter was going through a divorce from his
then-wife Rea. Madeline wanted to prevent Rea from benefiting from any of Madeline’s assets,
so she removed Peter from her will. This left her daughter Lisa Free as sole beneficiary. Lisa
orally agreed to provide Peter with half of the income generated by the assets after their
mother’s death if his divorce was still pending, and to transfer half of the assets to him after the
divorce was final. In reliance on those promises, Peter agreed to pay the property taxes for the
estate. Madeline died and Peter paid the taxes, but Lisa backed out on the deal.
These facts meet all the requirements for an action based on a theory of promissory
estoppel. There was an unambiguous promise by Lisa to provide Peter with half of the income
generated by the assets during the pendency of Peter’s divorce, and to transfer half of the
assets on the finality of the divorce. Peter reasonably and detrimentally relied on those promises
(b) Peter’s failure to disclose his ultimate right to receive half of the assets of
Madeline’s estate in the future could have impacted the financial issues in his divorce from Rea.
Rea would not have been entitled to a simple half of Peter’s share—an inheritance is generally
considered to be a spouse’s separate property. But if Rea had known that Peter would later