Question: In a recent column you discussed what happens to a jointly-owned Scottsdale home after the boyfriend tells the girlfriend that he is moving out, and that he will deed the home to her. You told the girlfriend to immediately get something in writing, even an email from the boyfriend. Is an email from the boyfriend enforceable if he later changes his mind?
Answer: The email itself would not be enforceable as an email doesn’t meet the requirements of a deed, e.g., notarization of grantor’s signature. Under the doctrine of promissory estoppel, if the girlfriend relied on the boyfriend’s promise in the email that he would deed the home to her, the promise could be enforced in court. For example, if the girlfriend signed a lease with a new roommate or painted the home, the boyfriend could be legally estopped (i.e., “stopped”) from denying his email promise to deed the home to her.
Note: A judge could order the boyfriend to record a deed to the girlfriend. If the boyfriend refused, the boyfriend could be held in contempt of court by the judge.