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In re Grieff

    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.

    Facts. A couple waived their statutory right to election against the other in a prenuptial agreement. The husband selected and paid for the wife’s attorney to represent her during the creation and execution of the agreement. Three months after their marriage, the husband died and devised his entire estate to his children from a prior marriage. The wife filed a petition for her statutory share. The trial court invalidated the agreement determining that the husband was in a position of great influence and advantage over the wife.

    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.


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