Re McArdle [1951] Ch 669

Past consideration is no consideration.


William McArdle left a house to his five children in equal shares, subject to a life interest for his widow. The wife of one of these sons, Mrs Marjorie McArdle, carried out improvements to the house amounting to £488. She also bore the cost of these repairs. After the repairs had been carried out, she got all the five children of McArdle to sign a document in which they promised to repay Mrs McArdle the £488 out of the estate when it was eventually distributed. After the testator’s widow died, Mrs McArdle asked for payment. However, the other four sons refused to pay her. She tried to enforce her interest in the property in court.


Ms McArdle argued that the document was an equitable assignment of a portion of each of the five sons’ interest in the property amounting to £488 out of the testator’s estate. However, the other sons argued that the promise was merely a gift, as Mrs McArdle had provided no consideration for it. As she was a mere volunteer, the equitable maxim ‘Equity will not assist a volunteer’ applied and, therefore, the promise to pay could not be enforced. 


The Court of Appeal held that the transaction had not been completed and was imperfect. Therefore, it was only a promise to pay and not a gift. Mrs McArdle had already performed the work before she asked for payment. Her consideration was in the past. Past consideration is not good consideration. Therefore, the agreement was unenforceable.