Brief Fact Summary. A woman and a man executed an agreement where each waived their right to take an elective share against the other’s estate. The man died three months later and left his estate to his children of a prior marriage. The woman elected to take her statutory share.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. If a party attacks the validity of a prenuptial agreement on a claim that here was an inequality in the bargaining status between the parties, the court must establish as fact-based particularized inequality of status before the proponent suffers a shift in burden to prove fraud or overreaching.
In Greiff, the Court of Appeals instructed that in determining the parties respective burdens where a marital agreement is challenged, courts should decide whether the nature of the relationship between the couple at the time they executed their agreement rose to the level to shift the burden to the proponent of the agreement to prove freedom from fraud, deception or undue influence.View Full Point of Law
Issue. Whether the proponent of a prenuptial agreement bears the burden of proving the absence of fraud or overreaching?
Held. No. The contestants of a prenuptial agreement must establish a fact-based particularity of inequality of status before the proponent must bear the burden of proving the absence of fraud or overreaching. Here, the trial court determined that the husband was in a position of great advantage and placed the burden on the proponent to prove the absence of fraud or overreaching. However the trial court did not determine whether based on the nature of the relationship at the time the agreement was signed, whether the burden of proof should turn to the proponents of the prenuptial agreement. Prenuptial agreement must be given a particularized and exception scrutiny because the relationship before marriage is permeated with trust, confidence, honesty and reliance.
Discussion. Courts balance the law of contracts with the public policy that wives have a right to a share against her husband’s estate. The law will not abandon the law of contracts and the validity of agreements when administering probate.