In England and Wales (Although the 1989 Law of Property (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act seems to apply throughout the UK as far as I can tell based on the text) a gratuitous promise is created by the execution of a valid deed (Also known as a contract under seal, although the term has fallen into disuse, largely due to the removal of requirements for the attachement of a seal). The English law of promissory estoppel is quite different from that of the US; My musings on estoppel may be enlightening. Note also the rules regarding promises in respect to land enbodied in the doctrine of Proprietary Estoppel.

To execute a valid deed, the document must:

  • Clearly describe itself as being a deed.
  • If by an individual, be signed by him in the presence of one witness; or signed in his presence and at his direction by his representative, also in front of two witnesses.
  • If by a corporation under the various Companines Acts, Either: Executed under the seal of the corporation, or signed by two directors, or by one director and the Company Secretary. This is as for any document executed by a corporation.
  • For other kinds of corporations, readers are refered to the Law Commisson paper referenced.
  • Delivered as a deed to the one in whose favour it is made.

A note should be made that as equity will not assist a volunteer, gratuitous deeds will generally not give rise to (successful) action for specific performance.

These rules may change in response to the recommendations of the Law Commision.


  • Law of Property (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1989. C.34
  • Law Commission Consultation Paper 143, "The Execution of Deeds and Documents, by, or on behalf of, Bodies Corporate"