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The Perils of Promises…Marlon Brando’s Story

Legendary Oscar-winning actor Marlon Brando left the bulk of his estate (worth approximately $26 million) to his producer and other associates.

Brando created a valid last will and testament. However, he did not include his longtime housekeeper Angela Borlaza – who later sued alleging that Brando promised that she would inherit a home from him when he died.

A Promise Is A Promise…

While a promise is a promise, not all promises are legally equal.  In the courtroom, an oral promise is usually not treated the same as a written promise. In this case, Brando either never promised Borlaza anything or promised to give her the home, but never got around to putting it in his will (or in a written contract).  Borlaza claimed a promise about a home was made and sued his estate for $627,000.

However, the alleged promise was oral. The law generally favors written evidence when it comes to estate planning matters, so the court examined only what was written in Brando’s will on the assumption that he made all of his wishes known. Borlaza eventually settled the matter for $125,000, but she was lucky to get even that.

Oral promises about inheritances are typically not legally valid and usually only introduce confusion and uncertainty about formal estate planning documents (such as a will or trust). Courts can – and reasonably must – rely upon the documents, like a will, when probating an estate. Although you might be trying to save money or time by promising inheritances to family members, friends, or others, but you aren’t doing anyone a favor. Luckily, there is a way to make your promises and wishes legally valid.

Put It in Writing – The Key to Making Promises Work

Make sure that your loved ones receive everything you promised them by putting your wishes in writing through a last will and testament, a trust, or other estate planning tool. Don’t rest on your laurels. It is imperative to update your estate planning documents when any significant or life changing events occur such as:

  • a new oral promise you made to someone
  • adoption
  • birth
  • circumstance changes (change in health, wealth, or state of residence)
  • divorce
  • income changes
  • marriage
  • divorce
  • re-marriage

Need help putting your wishes in writing? You’re in the right place. Contact our office today and let us help you decide what type of estate plan might work best for your situation. It’s easier than you think and will give you the peace of mind that your loved ones aren’t forgotten.

About the Author Sorrell Paralegal