Just because people are nice to you doesn't mean they have your best interests in mind
December 6, 2012 10:47 PM   Subscribe

Friend of a friend's mother just passed away, and between the death and the funeral, the mom's sketchy neighbor talked him into selling his car for pennies on the dollar. What now?

Let's call him Fred. Long story short: this is in California, the car is worth approximately $13,000 wholesale, and the sketchy neighbor talked Fred into accepting less than 25% of that. The neighbor has possession of the car; Fred may or may not have the money in hand (he's still in shock about his mom, the funeral was today, and he's kind of out of his mind right now), but he has not signed the title over to the neighbor or put anything on paper.

What options do we have in the short term to reverse this unfortunate lapse of judgment on his part? This is his beloved car, and he's obviously being taken advantage of, so when he snaps out of this he's going to be miserable. I'd like to help prevent this if I can, by whatever legal means are available.
posted by davejay to Law & Government (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
note: we have a strategy to help him realize he's being taken advantage of, and a strategy to postpone his signing over of the title in the short term, so no need to address those things.
posted by davejay at 11:18 PM on December 6, 2012

Until you have your friend's agreement that he wants to undo the sale, I don't think you can do anything more. As long as he still has title in his name, it is legally his car. If he changes his mind, and the neighbor refuses to undo the deal, he can call the police and report it as stolen. But it is not your car to repossess. And it is possible that the neighbor paid a reasonable amount and your friend forgot or got confused. So slow down for now, get the facts straight and get the real owners consent before you approach the neighbor.
posted by metahawk at 11:23 PM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

The easiest way to undo it would probably be to get the sketchy neighbor to agree to undo it. Perhaps if a couple of you go talk to him, and he sees that he can't easily get away with this, he'll decide he'd rather not bother with the whole situation.

If he disagrees, you could be in for a legal fight (oral contracts are sometimes enforceable; you'd need to talk to an attorney to determine if there was a contract here and if it is enforceable).
posted by insectosaurus at 5:35 AM on December 7, 2012

Is this a verbal deal? If so, it's not a deal. If your friend wants the car back all he needs to do is take it.

If there's a bill of sale, then that's that.

This is why no one should EVER try to transact any business while in the middle of dealing with grief and a family death.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:39 AM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

If he has the title, it's still his car. If he has taken a deposit or any money, return it.

Even IF there is a bill of sale, I'd still return the money and keep the car, along with a copy of a note stating that he was not of sound mind due to grief.

Dare him to sue you - the chances of it are very, very slim, this is beyond small claims court and lawyers are more expensive than the car is worth. Also, I'm quite sure any judge would be sympathetic with regard to the circumstances.
posted by zug at 6:47 AM on December 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Is this a verbal deal? If so, it's not a deal. If your friend wants the car back all he needs to do is take it.

Please do not follow this advice. First, entering someone else's property without permission is called "trespassing"; if you take someone's property while you are doing so (and this car may now be the neighbor's property), it is called "theft".

Second, unless your state has some odd statute of frauds or other governing statute the oral (not "verbal") contract is perfectly enforceable. While the sale of motor vehicles is often governed by state statute, the statutory provisions governing the transfer of title do not provide the exclusive method of transferring title and do not abrogate the common law of sales. Most importantly, the failure of the purchaser to obtain the title certificate at the time of the sale does not generally prevent the passage of title from the seller to the buyer, and retention of legal title to secure payment does not preclude a determination that beneficial ownership was transferred. This is a statement of Florida law, so consult with a lawyer in your jurisdiction who specializes in these issues. However, I would be surprised to learn if the common law of sales has been abrogated by the statutes regarding title.

Your question is essentially, "has a sale taken place?" None of us knows enough facts or relevant law to answer that question, so you need a consultation with a lawyer. Most will give one for a small fee. My two cents is that a sale very well may have occurred, but in any event, if your friend were to refuse to consummate the sale and the neighbor were to sue, his lawsuit would not be a frivolous one. Whether a sale has taken place is a question of law for the judge, not a question of how is the more sympathetic. (I win against sympathetic people all the time) In any event, the absolute worst thing to do would be to try to take the car back by force.

posted by Tanizaki at 7:51 AM on December 7, 2012 [4 favorites]

How badly off is your friend? Is he currently incapable of handling his own finances? Does he have family or close friends who can temporarily assist him? Can someone stay with him? Does he have access to mental health professionals? I would be worried about other poor decisions and his ability to care for himself and keep himself safe in general, but obviously I don't know him so I could be misinterpreting things.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:24 PM on December 7, 2012

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