OCTOBER 1, 2001 VOLUME 9, NUMBER 14
Prenuptial agreements, though not particularly romantic, are often important to couples about to be married. Particularly in second marriage situations, a prenuptial agreement can reduce anxiety between the new spouses as well as among family members of each spouse. There are some clear rules that must be followed to make such agreements effective, however.
In Arizona, for instance, a prenuptial agreement (sometimes also called a premarital agreement) will be enforced in a later dissolution proceeding or upon the death of one spouse, but only if each prospective spouse gives financial information to the other. An agreement must not be unconscionable, and both parties must have signed voluntarily. Other state rules, though they differ in particulars, will usually be similar.
Frances and Eugene Ingmand were actually residents of Iowa, but they were staying at Mr. Ingmand’s winter home in Sun City, Arizona, when they decided they would get married. On March 11, 1986, three days before their marriage, Mr. Ingmand told his wife-to-be that they needed to go get a marriage license, and got her into his car. Instead, he drove to his attorney’s office, where she was presented with a prenuptial agreement and told that she would not be getting married unless she signed.
Mr. Ingmand’s lawyer explained to Frances that he represented only her prospective husband, and that she was free to take the agreement to someone else to review. She was uncomfortable and embarrassed, but she declined to either read the document carefully or take it for independent review. She signed in the lawyer’s office that day, and the couple was married on schedule.
When Mr. Ingmand died in Iowa a decade later, his widow filed a claim in probate court for her share of his estate. His heirs, pointing to the prenuptial agreement, denied her claim; the probate court sided with the estate and against Mrs. Ingmand, and she appealed.
The Iowa Court of Appeals upheld the probate court’s determination. While Mr. Ingmand’s "actions may be fairly characterized as surprise pressure tactics," ruled the Court, "they did not negate the knowing and voluntary nature of the execution." Mrs. Ingmand had an opportunity to review the document, or could have delayed signing until she had taken a copy home or to her own lawyer. In the Matter of the Estate of Ingmand, July 31, 2001.
Although Mr. and Mrs. Ingmand’s prenuptial agreement was executed in Arizona, it was reviewed under Iowa law because that was their residence and the place of Mr. Ingmand’s death. If the review had taken place in Arizona courts, however, it most likely would have led to the same result. Iowa and Arizona laws governing prenuptial agreements are very similar.