Other Matters

Inter Vivos Gift

Green v. Canon, 33 S.W.3d 855 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] 2000, pet. denied).


Mother allowed Son to live in her home for almost two decades. Mother then asked Son to move out so she could live in the house. Son refused and Mother filed a forcible entry and detainer action. Son claimed title to the house based on a letter in which Mother explained that she did not intend to move back into the house and that she treated the house as if it belonged to Son. She stated that she wanted to give the house to Son but also wanted some money in return to appease other family members. Mother detailed how Son should contact an attorney to formalize her plans. The trial court rejected claims that this letter acted as a deed or as a contract to convey.

The appellate court affirmed. The court determined that the letter could not operate as a contract to convey because it did not acknowledge the receipt of valuable consideration. The court then examined whether the letter could operate as a deed. The court recognized that a deed only need be in writing and subscribed or delivered by the conveyor or the conveyor’s agent under Property Code § 5.021 and that the common law technicalities are no longer needed. The letter was not a deed because (1) the language contemplated future action (e.g., Son was to contact an attorney to implement the plan) and (2) uncertainty with regard to the donee (i.e., Mother indicated that the donees could be (a) Son and Daughter-in-Law or (b) Daughter-in-Law and grandchildren).

Moral: An informal document, such as a letter to a family member, is unlikely to be effective as a legal instrument such as a deed, will, or contract.