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John Sasson and Emily Springer met in January 2002. John worked for the U.S.Army as an engineer. Emily was an attorney with a law firm. Six months later, John bought a townhouse in Randolph, New Jersey, and asked Emily to live with him. She agreed but retained the ownership of her home in Monmouth Beach. John paid the mortgage and the other expenses on the townhouse. He urged Emily to quit her job and work from “our house.” In May 2003, Emily took John’s advice and started her own law practice. In December, John made her the beneficiary of his $150,000 individual retirement account(IRA) and said that he would give her his 2002 BMW M3 car before the end of the next year. He proposed to her in September 2004, giving her a diamond engagement ring and promising to “take care of her” for the rest of her life. Less than a month later, John was critically injured by an accidental blow to his head during a basketball game and died. On behalf of John’s estate,which was valued at $1.1 million, his brother Steven filed a complaint in a New Jersey state court to have Emily evicted from the townhouse. Given these facts, consider the following questions.
(a) Based on John’s promise to “take care of her” for the rest of her life,Emily claimed that she was entitled to the townhouse, the BMW, and an additional portion of John’s estate. Under what circumstances would such a promise constitute a valid, enforceable contract? Does John’s promise meet these requirements? Why or why not?
(b) Whether or not John’s promise is legally binding, is there an ethical basis on which it should be enforced? Is there an ethical basis for not enforcing it? Are there any circumstances under which a promise of support should be—or should not be— enforced? Discuss.