Davis v. Jacoby

Supreme Court of California, 1934.

1 Cal.2d 370, 34 P.2d 1026.

Dawson, pp. 372-376


Facts: Caro Davis was the niece of the Whiteheads.  The Davises lived in Canada and the Whiteheads lived in California.  They were close friends.  Mr. Whitehead asked the Davises to come to California and take care of him and his wife.  In exchange, he would promise to make Caro Davis his sole heir.  The Davises wrote and promised to come.  Mr. Whitehead received this letter.  Before the Davises arrived, Mr. Whitehead died.  The Davises came to California right away and took care of Mrs. Whitehead until she died, upholding their end of the bargain.  When she died, it was discovered that the Whiteheads’ wills named other relatives as their heirs.  The Davises sued to have those heirs declared “trustees” for them who would hand over the estate.


Issue: Was Whitehead’s offer validly accepted such that a contract was formed?  Was the offer for a unilateral contract (promise for performance) or for a bilateral contract (promise for promise)?


Rule: The death of the offeror terminates the offer.


Analysis: The court finds that Whitehead offered a bilateral contract which was properly accepted by the return promise of the Davises before Whitehead’s death.  The court notes that Whitehead wanted to hear back from the Davises as soon as possible, which suggests he was interested in getting their promise to come.  Also, the court notes that some of the things the Davises promised to do could have and in fact did stretch beyond Mr. Whitehead’s death.  If he’s no longer around, he must be relying on the Davises’s promise to perform.


Conclusion: The judgment of the trial court is reversed.  Caro Davis is made the heir of the Whiteheads.


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