Thirteen years ago, I was forced to sign a prenuptial agreement to inherit only $10,000 from my husband's estate. We later modified it to include $50,000 from his IRA. The house, in his name alone, is worth about $600,000. From what you've written, New York law would entitle me to one-third of its value. My brother is my attorney, and he says the prenuptial agreement supersedes any such law. Is this really true? We can't change the agreement now, as my husband has dementia, and I'm sure his sons and daughter would challenge it.
A prenuptial agreement does supersede the law. That's what it's designed to do. But a court can invalidate the agreement if it finds you were coerced into signing it.
New York's marital law is essentially a one-size-fits-all prenuptial contract. It entitles a decedent's surviving spouse to at least one-third of his or her estate, whether there's a will or not. When you write your own prenuptial agreement, you waive that legal entitlement to create a plan better suited to your needs. For example, a couple might agree to leave the assets in their sole names to their respective children from previous marriages.
To be valid, a prenuptial agreement requires full financial disclosure by both people, who must each have their own lawyer. (Courts typically are unimpressed by a contract between people who had the same attorney, or who had no legal representation.) But even if it meets those requirements, a court can invalidate a prenuptial agreement that included unkept promises, or was signed under duress -- too close to the wedding date, for example -- or whose terms the judge finds unconscionably one-sided.
The bottom line A prenuptial agreement supersedes state marital law; but a court can invalidate a prenuptial that doesn't satisfy legal standards.
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