Law School Case Brief
Hiers v. Estate of Hiers - 278 Ga. App. 242, 628 S.E.2d 653 (2006)
Prenuptial agreements in contemplation of divorce are not absolutely void as against public policy. But, prenuptial agreements in which a spouse waives his or her rights in the other spouse's estate at death, as distinguished from agreements executed in contemplation of divorce, have long been valid in Georgia. In such cases, it appears the courts should give effect to marriage agreements according to the understanding of the parties. The following factors exists for the evaluation of prenuptial agreements made in contemplation of divorce: (1) was the agreement obtained through fraud, duress or mistake, or through misrepresentation or nondisclosure of material facts? (2) is the agreement unconscionable? (3) have the facts and circumstances changed since the agreement was executed, so as to make its enforcement unfair and unreasonable? Whether an agreement is enforceable in light of these criteria is a decision made in the trial court's sound discretion
Husband and wife were married in Florida in 1994. The husband was 51; the wife was 43; and the marriage was the second for both. Prior to marrying, the couple met with a lawyer in Florida about entering into a prenuptial agreement. The wife had an opportunity to ask the lawyer questions but did not. The attorney, however, advised the wife not to sign the agreement. Instead of making further inquiry, the wife executed the document later that day in the presence of witnesses, and her signature was notarized. She admitted that no one forced her to sign. The wife deposed that she knew her husband would not marry her unless she signed the prenuptial agreement. She understood the agreement provided that, in the event of a divorce, she would receive only $5,000. She also understood that she would only inherit $5,000 from her husband upon his death, as provided for in his will, and that her bequest was also governed by the prenuptial agreement. In January 2003, with the wife present, the husband executed his last will and testament, wherein the latter bequeathed to the wife the sum of "Five Thousand Dollars" as set out in the prenuptial agreement. The husband died three months later. Some time later, the wife challenged the validity of the prenuptial agreement, arguing that the same was procured through fraud, duress, and the nondisclosure of material facts. The trial court found that the prenuptial agreement was valid, binding, and enforceable; and her acceptance of the bequest in lieu of a year's support, her failure to oppose the prenuptial agreement prior to her marriage, and her acceptance of the marriage and its benefits ratified the agreement and waived her right to contest the validity of the prenuptial agreement and seek support. The wife appealed.
Was the prenuptial agreement procured through fraud, duress, and the nondisclosure of material facts, and hence, unenforceable?
The appellate court affirmed the judgment of the trial court. According to the appellate court, while the wife challenged the validity of the prenuptial agreement, the evidence showed that the husband did nothing other than to ask for a prenuptial agreement as a condition of the marriage, and there was no evidence of fraud or misrepresentation. While she claimed that the disparity in financial situations and business experience rendered the prenuptial agreement unconscionable when executed, she was not left bereft of resources upon her husband's death. Finally, there was no evidence of any changed circumstances.
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