Marlon Brando and the Perils of Unwritten Promises

Gold Leaf Estate Planning, LLC

POSTED ON: September 26, 2018

Marlon Brando and the Peril of Unwritten Promises

Legendary Oscar-winning actor Marlon Brando died at the age of 80 in 2004. He had been suffering from dementia, but signed a codicil to his existing will that appointed new executors to oversee his estate a mere 13 days prior to his death. Brando left the bulk of his estate (worth approximately $26 million) to his producer and other associates.

Brando created a valid last will and testament. However, he did not include his longtime housekeeper Angela Borlaza – who later sued alleging that Brando promised that she would inherit a home from him when he died.

A Promise Is A Promise…

Not all promises are equal in the eyes of the law. In the courtroom, an oral promise is usually not treated the same as a written promise. In this case, Brando either never promised Borlaza anything or promised to give her the home, but never got around to putting it in his will (or in a written contract). Borlaza claimed that a promise about a home was made and that a promise was made to keep her employed, and she sued Brando’s estate for $627,000.

The law generally favors written evidence when it comes to estate planning matters, so the court examined only what was written in Brando’s will on the assumption that he made all of his wishes known. The alleged promise to Borlaza was oral. Nonetheless, Borlaza eventually settled the matter for $125,000, but she was lucky to get even that.

Oral promises about inheritances are typically not legally valid. Courts can – and reasonably must – rely upon the documents, like a will, when probating an estate. Although you might save money or time by promising inheritances to family members, friends, or others, you aren’t doing anyone a favor. Instead, you are likely creating confusion and uncertainty surrounding any valid documents that you do have that contain who should get what in your estate plan. Fortunately, there is a way to make your promises and wishes legally valid.

Put It in Writing – The Key to Making Promises Work

Make sure that your loved ones receive everything you promised them by putting your wishes in writing through a last will and testament, a trust, or other estate planning tool. Even if you have a plan in place, you should review it every 3 years with an estate planning attorney. It is imperative to update your estate planning documents when any significant or life changing events occur such as:

  • a new oral promise you made to someone
  • adoption
  • birth
  • circumstance changes (change in health, wealth, or state of residence)
  • divorce
  • income changes
  • marriage

Need help putting your wishes in writing?  Contact our office today at (952) 658-6503 and let an experienced Minnesota estate planning attorney help you decide what type of estate plan might work best for your situation. It’s easier than you think and will give you the peace of mind that your loved ones aren’t forgotten.


Zach Wiegand is a Burnsville, Minnesota estate planning attorney and the owner of Gold Leaf Estate Planning, LLC. Gold Leaf Estate Planning is an estate planning law firm that handles probate and trust administration in Minnesota. We serve the Twin Cities metropolitan area with a focus on estate planning for clients in Burnsville, Eagan, Savage, Prior Lake, Lakeville, Apple Valley, Eden Prairie and the South Metro. The firm also handles probate in Dakota County, Washington County, Scott County, Hennepin County, and Ramsey County. Zach was named a Minnesota Super Lawyer – Rising Star for both 2017 & 2018 and he is a member of WealthCounsel – a national organization of estate planning attorneys dedicated to practice excellence. You can contact Zach via e-mail at or by calling (952) 658-6503. Gold Leaf Estate Planning is located in Burnsville at 3000 County Road 42 W., Suite 310, Burnsville, MN 55337.