IS AN ORAL AGREEMENT FOR THE SALE OF REAL ESTATE ENORCEABLE?
Generally, a verbal contract is binding in Missouri. However, there are certain circumstances in Missouri when a verbal contract is not enforceable. Those circumstances are described in Missouri’s “statute of frauds”. According to the statute, the following verbal contracts are not binding.
EXECUTOR OR ADMINISTRATOR
Any administrator of an estate will not bind the estate to pay for a claim against the estate unless the agreement is in writing and signed by the administrator.
PROMISE TO PAY THE DEBT OF ANOTHER
In Missouri, a guaranty to pay the debt of another person must be in writing and signed by the guarantor. A guaranty is a contract whereby the guarantor agrees to pay the debt of another in the event of a default. In Capital Group, Inc. v. Collier, defendant was the President of a company. The company entered into a credit agreement with plaintiff. The agreement signed by the defendant said that the undersigned will be liable for the payment “of any and all goods and/or services furnished by [plaintiff]”.
Plaintiff contended that defendant was personally liable for the debt of the company, because he signed the agreement without indicating his title. The court disagreed, holding that the agreement did not clearly show that defendant intended to guaranty payments owed under the agreement.
AGREEMENT IN CONSIDERATION OF MARRIAGE
In the Estate of Kilbourn, Wayne and Marjorie Kilbourn entered into an antenuptial agreement stating that they relinquished all rights to the property of the other. Marjorie then died, and Wayne asserted that her estate owed him for labor and other things he provided to her property when she was alive. The court denied his claim and said that any modification of the antenuptial agreement must have been in a writing signed by Marjorie, as the antenuptial agreement had been made in consideration of the marriage.
CONTRACT FOR THE SALE OF LAND
In Shaffer v. Hines, the administrator of an estate obtained an order from the probate court to sell certain land owned by the estate. Defendant was the high bidder at the auction. Defendant tendered a check to the attorney for the administrator, made payable to the estate. He later stopped payment on the check. The administrator then sued the defendant, claiming that he breached his verbal contract to purchase the land. Both parties agreed that the check was not a written agreement to purchase the land. The court of appeals held that the verbal contract was not enforceable pursuant to Missouri’s statute of frauds.
LEASE LONGER THAN ONE YEAR
A lease for more than one year must be in writing and signed by the party against whom a breach is asserted. A lease for more than one year that is not in writing and signed is not a lease. Rather, the tenants are tenants at will. In fact, pursuant to Section 432.050 RSMo., any lease not in writing and signed creates a tenancy at will. A tenant at will may be terminated with one month’s notice. Missouri courts have interpreted the one month period to encompass one rent period. For example, if rent is due March 1st, the notice must be served on the tenant before March 1st. The tenancy will then terminate on April 1st.
AGREEMENT NOT TO BE PERFORMED WITHIN ONE YEAR
An agreement that cannot be performed within one year must be in writing and signed. In Sales Service v. Daewoo, plaintiff agreed to provide consultation services to defendant over three years in exchange for $40,000 per year. Plaintiff was also to receive a percentage of defendant’s sales during the three years. Plaintiff sent a memo to defendant to this effect, but defendant never signed it. Defendant sent numerous signed memos to plaintiff related to the agreement, but none of them stated that the agreement was for three years. After 23 months, defendant informed plaintiff that defendant would no longer perform the services of the agreement. Plaintiff sued defendant for the amount plaintiff would have received under the rest of the contract. However, the agreement had to be in a signed writing, because it could not be performed within one year.
Most rules have exceptions. Such is true with Missouri’s statute of frauds. In Missouri, if a party committed a fraud in the formation of a verbal contract covered by the statute of frauds, then the courts nonetheless have the discretion to enforce such verbal contract. However, the verbal contract must still conform to all of Missouri’s other requirements for the formation of a contract.
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