This recent Fourth District Court of Appeal opinion reminds us of the fundamental concepts of contract law as they relate to a decedent’s estate.
In Wilson, Marilyn Wilson and her late spouse, Paul Wilson, were married in 2011. Prior to their marriage, they entered into a prenuptial agreement, wherein the couple waived their right to an elective share. The prenuptial agreement did allow the couple to make testamentary gifts to each other, by way of will or codicil, and without invalidating the prenuptial agreement. Further, the prenuptial agreement provided that any changes to it must be in writing and signed by both of them.
Later, in 2013, Paul signed his Will and created a trust, which trust he amended in 2014. The trust provided that enough property was to be set aside to satisfy the wife’s elective share. Only Paul signed the trust documents.
Paul died in 2017.
Marilyn filed a notice of election to take an elective share, pursuant to the provisions of the trust. Paul’s son, Gregory Wilson, who became both the trustee and the appointed personal representative, sought to strike the election to take elective share.
The probate court found that the prenuptial agreement was clear and unambiguous, and that it governed. The prenuptial agreement allowed the parities to give or receive testamentary gifts by will or codicil, but that Marilyn had waived her right to take elective share in the prenuptial agreement. The prenuptial agreement was only allowed to be changed in writing, which writing had to be signed by both parties.
When a contract, such as a prenuptial agreement, is clear and unambiguous in its terms, then its plain meaning controls and its provisions enforced. Marilyn waived her elective share in the prenuptial agreement. No separate analysis of the terms of the prenuptial agreement was therefore necessary or permissible.
The Fourth District Court of Appeal affirmed, determining that the trust could not modify the prenuptial agreement, as it was not signed by both Marilyn and Paul. See also Fla. Stat. §61.079(6). Additionally, the Fourth District Court of Appeal held that any testamentary gifts given in the will or codicil would not invalidate the prenuptial agreement – if Paul had given Marilyn anything in his will or codicil, she still waived her elective share by the very terms of the prenuptial agreement.
When signing a prenuptial agreement, or any kind of similar marital agreement, an experienced estate planning lawyer should advise of these kinds of waivers. If you are involved in a similar situation involving a marital agreement, it is prudent to seek the insight of an experienced estate lawyer.