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Can I Enforce a Contract with Someone Who Has Died?

A contract can be enforced against a deceased’s estate.  It is still a valid agreement even if the other party has died, provided they did not need to be alive to perform the contract (for example, an employment agreement). 

In most cases you will have remedies under the contract and general law. 

If, because of the death of the other party,:

  • the contract cannot be performed: the contract may be frustrated by circumstances beyond the parties’ foresight and ability to control.  You should check the contract to see if it deals with such a situation.
  • the contract is breached: there are potential remedies such as damages, specific performance or in some circumstances a Court ordered injunction.

You should have your lawyer find out who is acting for the deceased’s estate and see what your options are or whether the contract can still be performed.

Example

Mr Jones is selling his house.  Ms Mable makes a suitable offer to Mr Jones.

The offer is accepted and goes unconditional.  Unfortunately, Mr Jones dies of a heart attack before settlement.  Ms Mable really wants to buy the house.

Can the contract be performed?

Yes, but settlement will be delayed.  Mr Jones’ executors must obtain probate of his will before the property can be transferred to the executors and then to Ms Mable.  If Mr Jones did not have a valid will, then letters of administration will have to be granted before the property can be transferred to the administrators and then transferred to Ms Mable), which is a longer process. 

If you have questions about enforcing a contract against an estate, our Disputes Resolution Team are able to assist you.

Ewen is a Senior Solicitor in our Dispute Resolution Team and can be contacted on 07 958 7466.


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