SW Legal studies in Business

Promissory Estoppel Applied to Promise to Give Land to a Daughter for Building a House

Maine high court held that promissory estoppel would apply to a promise made by parents to their daughter that they would give her some of their land if she built a house on their property. The fact that she built the house is evidence that she expected to receive a deed to the land.

Topic Contracts
Key Words

Promise; Breach of Contract; Property; Promissory Estoppel

C A S E   S U M M A R Y

The Dows are the parents of Teresa Harvey. The Dows own 125 acres of land. Teresa claimed the family had always discussed that she and her brother could each have a home on the property, and the Dows promised to transfer ownership of some land to her at some point in the future. Teresa and her husband put a mobile home on the land and later, with her parent’s permission, built a garage. Teresa’s husband was killed in an accident, and she used insurance proceeds to build a permanent home. She said the Dows encourage this and said they would transfer the deed to her later. She built a $200,000 home for herself and lent her brother $25,000. Relations among the family members began to sour. Teresa asked her parents for a deed to the property. They refused and she sued for breach of contract, requesting the court to compel conveyance of property to her. The Dows contended that they had made her no promise, and she had no right to any land. The trial court held that there was no enforceable promise. Teresa appealed.


Vacated and remanded. General promises by the Dows to convey land the Teresa as a gift or inheritance would not, alone, support a claim of promissory estoppel. It applies to promises that are otherwise unenforceable, and is invoked to enforce such promises so as to avoid injustice. A promise by the Dows to deed land to Teresa for her house could be fairly implied, as necessary for promissory estoppel, when coupled with the permission to build the house. Such a promise need not be express, but may be implied by the actions of the parties.


Harvey v. Dow, 962 A.2d 322 (Sup. Ct., Maine, 2008)

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