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Promise to make a gift may not be enforced

By By Richard Alderman
Aug. 10, 2013 at 3:10 a.m.


I bought my daughter a truck with the verbal agreement that she would pay me back. The truck cost $9,000. That has not happened. In Texas, what is the rule for verbal agreements? What steps can I take to get my money? She has a good job.

The answer to the question you ask is simple: An oral promise to repay a loan is enforceable.

The legal issue, however, is whether this was a loan or a gift. For a promise to be enforceable, there must be what the law calls "consideration." This means that the promise was given in exchange for something.

For example, if you said, "I'll buy you a car if you promise to pay me back," and she said, "OK," she would be making her promise to pay you back in exchange for your agreement to buy the car.

On the other hand, if you bought the car, and when you gave it to her she said, "Thank you, Dad. You're the best; I promise to pay you back," her promise would be unenforceable because she didn't receive anything in return from you.

In legal terms, there was no "consideration." Her promise is nothing more than a promise to make a gift, and these promises cannot be enforced in court.

The bottom line is that if your arrangement was she promised to pay you back if you bought the car, her oral promise is enforceable, and small claims court may be the best place to resolve the matter.

In September 2006, my husband and I had a vehicle repossessed. The debt collector says he is going to file suit against us. What is the statute of limitations for a debt of this type? The collector told us it was seven years in the state of Texas. I thought it was four years. Any information you can provide will be greatly appreciated.

My opinion is that you are correct. This type of debt is subject to a four-year limitations period. I suggest you let the debt collector know you believe it is four years and that if he does sue, you will seek the assistance of a consumer attorney. Misrepresenting the law is a violation of federal and state debt collection laws, and you could recover a statutory penalty as well as attorney's fees.

Will my son be responsible for my outstanding balance of my student loan in the event of my death?

As you may know, government-backed student loans are the most "collectable" type of debt.

There is no limitation period, wages may be garnished, and they generally are not discharged in bankruptcy. The debt, however, does not pass to your heirs. After your death, your estate will be responsible for the debt. If there is no money in your estate, the debt will remain unpaid.

In 2001, my ex-husband was ordered to pay child support. Since that time, he has changed jobs and is making much more money. Shouldn't he be paying me more for support?

He probably should be paying you more, but until you get the order modified, he has the legal right to keep paying as originally ordered.

Either party may go back to court to have a child support order modified whenever there is a substantial change in circumstances.

A new job with a higher salary should entitle you to a larger payment. I suggest you speak with a family law attorney about modifying the order.

Richard Alderman, a consumer advocate popularly known as "the People's Lawyer," is a professor at the University of Houston Law School in Houston. His column appears weekly in the Victoria Advocate. Write to him at UH Law Center, Houston, Texas 77204-6391. He also maintains a website at peopleslawyer.net.

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