Oral and written contracts to devise real estate present different problems when specific performance is sought. Equity will ignore the requirements of the statute of frauds, as it must do in specifically enforcing oral contracts, only in order to avoid a fraud upon the performing party. An award of monetary payment may often be adequate to avoid such a result and will, therefore, often be the relief granted when the contract is oral. When the statute of frauds is not involved, specific performance of a contract to convey or to devise realty is the rule, not the exception.
At her death at the age of 73 years, the decedent was the owner of a 160-acre farm in Saline County valued at $34,400.00. By her will, dated September 7, 1961, the farm and the remainder of the residuary estate of the decedent were to be converted into cash and the proceeds given to the trustees of Davidson College to establish a student loan fund in memory of the decedent's mother. In the will, a nephew of the decedent and the husband of the plaintiff were given an option to purchase the farm at its appraised value. However, the plaintiff sought the court for specific performance upon a written contract with the decedent, which was entered into May 3, 1963, whereby the plaintiff was to care for the decedent during her lifetime, for which the farm was to be devised to plaintiff. The nephew and plaintiffs husband assert that the services rendered were easily ascertainable and plaintiff could be monetarily compensated instead. The trial court ordered the specific performance of the 1963 contract to devise the farm to the plaintiff. The case was appealed to the Supreme Court of Missouri.
Was the grant of specific performance proper?
The court affirmed the award, noting that plaintiff terminated her employment to care for decedent for the remainder of her life which, due to decedent's affliction with Parkinson's disease, could have become an increasingly onerous task. Decedent's agreement was premised upon her lack of immediate family to care for her and the possibility of being cared for in a nursing home. Although decedent succumbed merely six weeks after making the agreement, the court concluded that the contract was fair, conscionable, and supported by adequate consideration. Because the essential fairness of the contract and adequacy of consideration were found, the fact that the subject of the contract was real estate was immaterial; specific performance was proper.