Florida Probate And Prenuptial Agreements
With so many items, heirs, and creditors to consider in the probate process, it is easy for anyone who is not a trained legal expert to become a little lost. What are all of the forms and mandatory dates? HOW many people need to be informed? Etc. This is why it is an excellent strategy for the executor of an estate to hire legal representation as a guide for such matters. One item that an executor may come across and be unsure what to do with as they rifle through the estate’s paperwork is a prenuptial agreement between the deceased and a surviving party. So – if a prenuptial agreement is found, and, even more complicated, if the prenuptial agreement contradicts the existing provisions of the newest will, how should such an agreement be processed?
The question arose in the 2018 case of Kellar v. Estate of John W. Kellar. While the preponderance of that case focused around undue influence and the shifting burden of undue influence, the lower court and Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal also made it clear that a prenuptial agreement is a contract, and is to be enforced in the probate process just as a creditor claim would be.
In the case at issue, the decedent executed a premarital agreement which stated that he would make a will in favor of his future wife. After the decedent died, the decedent’s son produced a new will, executed by the decedent, that favored the son, not the wife. The court had to hear evidence and make decisions regarding whether the new will was produced under undue influence from the son and was therefore invalid, or whether the newer will is what should be advanced through probate (the court ultimately did rule that the evidence established that the newer will was invalid for reasons of undue influence, and not enough evidence was produced to rebut the finding that the will was produced under undue influence). However, the court also had a telling discussion concerning the prenuptial agreement and its place in the proceedings. The appellate court clarified that in its initial ruling the lower court had mistakenly held that because the Decedent had executed a prenuptial agreement, the decedent was precluded from creating a new will that did not favor the wife. The appellate court iterated that an individual is always free to amend their will. The premarital agreement was a contract. Whether the change to a will breaches that contract is a separate and distinct issue.
What this case tells us, in terms of processing probate and prenuptial agreements, is that a prenuptial agreement is a contract. The contract should be seen as, and enforced similar to, a valid contract such as one held by a creditor.
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The Florida probate process is notoriously complicated – but the experienced and talented Sarasota probate attorneys at Suncoast Civil Law have spent years guiding clients through every aspect of the process with a steady hand and sound counsel. Our capable, qualified attorneys are ready to offer you the insight and legal assistance you need in your probate matters. Contact our office today to schedule your consultation.