Review Prenuptial Agreement in Washington (August 2022)
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How does a prenuptial agreement affect estate planning?
I am getting married soon and I am interested in understanding how a prenuptial agreement would affect my estate planning. I would like to know what steps I should take to ensure that my assets are protected and that my wishes are carried out after I pass away. I am also curious as to how a prenuptial agreement might affect the distribution of my assets to my family members and other beneficiaries.
Answered Mar 3, 2021
A prenuptial agreement does not create an estate plan. But it can do two things.
First, a prenuptial agreement can create a contractual promise on the part of one or both spouses to do something in particular with their estate plan (such as promising to leave the marital home to the surviving spouse, or promising to leave everything they have to the surviving spouse, or promising to set up a trust, etc. etc.). If this contractual promise is broken, the surviving spouse has a contract claim against the estate of the dead spouse.
Second, and almost the opposite, in a prenuptial agreement one or both spouses can waive the rights they would otherwise have by statute, thus freeing up the other spouse to do whatever he or she wants with her estate plan. Without a prenuptial agreement, a surviving spouse is entitled by statute to inherit a certain proportion of the estate of the dead spouse (the exact proportion depends on whether or not the dead spouse has a will, and/or has surviving children). The prenuptial agreement can override these statutory rights and provide that the surviving spouse is not entitled to inherit anything from the dead spouse, except for anything the dead spouse may choose to leave the surviving spouse in his or her will.
Can a prenuptial agreement be challenged in court?
I am recently engaged and am considering entering into a prenuptial agreement with my fiancé. We have differing financial backgrounds and I am concerned that the agreement may not be fair to either of us. I want to understand if a prenuptial agreement can be challenged in court and the conditions under which this could happen.
Answered Mar 3, 2021
Texas calls prenuptial agreements "Premarital Agreements". These agreements, just like any other contract, can be challenged in court. A challenge to the agreement does not mean it will be found invalid, however. Surviving a challenge to the premarital agreement is primarily accomplished all the way back to when the agreement is drafted and executed. There are requirements or prohibitions for the agreement terms to be valid, which are too numerous to list here, but can be found in the Texas Family Code, chapter 4. In Texas, no consideration is required, but the Agreement must be in writing, and signed by both parties. It must be free from fraud and duress, and entered into voluntarily. It cannot be unconscionable, and the parties must provide a fair and reasonable disclosure of the property and financial obligations (unless waived). Enforcement of a premarital agreement falls under the Texas Family Code 4.006.
Additionally, any provision that would adversely affect the support of children is going to be prohibited. Conservatorship and possession/access (custody and visitation) will always be determined by the Court under the best interest of the children standard, regardless of what may have been put into the agreement.
The best way to survive a challenge is to hire a competent attorney to draft the agreement, ensure the agreement complies with the Texas Family Code, provide a fair and reasonable disclosure from both parties, both parties being represented by their own attorney when entering into the agreement, and ensuring the agreement is available for review far in advance of the wedding date.