How A Prenuptial Agreement Can Affect A Surviving Spouse’s Inheritance Rights
Prenuptial and postnuptial agreements often play a key role in probate litigation. Although most people associate such agreements with divorce, they also typically govern one spouse’s rights in the event of the other spouse’s death. For example, a prenuptial agreement may waive a spouse’s homestead rights under Florida law in the marital home. As a result, the validity of these agreements can become a question for a probate court to resolve.
A recent decision from the Florida Fourth District Court of Appeals, Williams-Paris v. Joseph, illustrates the types of legal problems that can arise from a disputed prenup. The events leading up to this case began on the wedding day of an 83-year-old groom and his 58-year-old bride in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. On the morning of the wedding–the groom’s fifth–he demanded his bride-to-be sign a prenuptial agreement. Rather than go to a lawyer, the bride managed to search for a fill-in form agreement online, which they then filled out and signed before a local notary. The wedding took place a few hours later.
Although the wedding was in Martha’s Vineyard, the couple made their home in Florida. The husband died four years later. The widow then filed a motion in Florida probate court to invalidate the prenup. Specifically, she wanted to protect her homestead rights in the marital home and claim her elective share of the husband’s estate as the surviving spouse.
Since the form prenup itself did not specify what state law to apply to its provisions, the probate court first had to decide if Massachusetts or Florida law governed its provisions. This was critical because under Massachusetts law, an agreement signed before marriage is invalid if a spouse failed to make full financial disclosure to the other, which did not occur in this case. But under Florida law, financial disclosure is only required if an agreement is signed after marriage (i.e., a post-nuptial agreement).
The probate court ultimately decided to apply Florida law. The court proceeded to reject the wife’s other arguments regarding the validity of the prenup and ultimately held the agreement was valid. The wife appealed.
The Fourth District gave the wife a partial victory. The appellate judges agreed with the probate court that Florida law applied. But in terms of interpreting the prenup, its terms stated that the couple’s Florida residence “shall not be affected by this Agreement.” The probate court relied on a later clause stating that each spouse waived their right to “any part of the real or personal property of the other” upon the other spouse’s death to mean that the wife only retained her rights to the home in the event of divorce. The Fourth District said that reading made no sense. It directed the probate court to make additional findings regarding the “extent of the wife’s interest” in the house.
Speak with a Florida Probate Litigation Lawyer Today
Prenuptial and postnuptial agreements can help avoid probate litigation when a spouse dies. But they can also lead to more problems. If you are involved in such a dispute and need legal advice from a qualified Pompano Beach prenuptial and postnuptial agreements attorney, contact Mark R. Manceri, P.A., today to schedule a consultation.