Is there legal recourse to an oral promise of property from a deceased person?

UPDATED: Sep 30, 2022

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Is there legal recourse to an oral promise of property from a deceased person?

My father in law died suddenly from cancer. According to his wife not my mother in law, he left a basic will that they had done online that left everything to her.

My husband requested a copy of the will from the register of wills, but was told–6 months later–that in Maryland, a will does not need to be registered if there is a living spouse.

At the time of his death, my husband asked that he be part of going through his father’s things with her and she said she wasn’t ready.

She then went on to sell my FIL’s work truck and all the tools some of which were my husband’s, an RV and more without saying anything to us.

When we saw her in November, she claimed she was STILL not ready to go through his things and my husband has been waiting patiently through all this to give her time to grieve and such.

Fast forward, it’s now been a little over a year and we found out through a mutual friend that she has sold my FIL’s hotrod that he built by hand. He has said for almost 20 YEARS that when he died, this car was to go to my husband. It was his pride and joy and he said, even a week prior to his death, that when he died, this car was to be my husband’s.

And she sold it without a single word to us about it

Is there any recourse to this? It was not written down that the hotrod was to be my husband’s, but there has been many, many times that he has said the hotrod was to go to us after his death–I’ve heard him say it, my husband has, my mother-in-law has and possibly others have.

Asked on February 15, 2017 under Estate Planning, Maryland


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 6 years ago | Contributor

No, unfortunately, an oral promise made by someone has no effect whatsoever after that person passes away. Only a valid will controls what happens to property after someone dies. So if the hotrod, or anything else, was willed to the wife, it was hers to do with as she pleased regardless of what had previously been promised.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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