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For purposes of determining the voluntariness of prenuptial agreements, independent counsel is useless without the ability and the time to make effective use of such counsel. The dependent party must be given sufficient time to obtain the advice of independent counsel. The contract should be presented well in advance of the ceremony, usually 30 days, to allow the bride or groom a reasonable opportunity to consult with independent counsel.
Years before the decedent, a very wealthy man, married the widow, a woman 30 years younger than he with little money and no knowledge of business or finance, his first wife pressured him to demand a prenuptial agreement, if he remarried, that would protect her and her children against the widow's claims for alimony or a widow's share. The matter was dropped when the widow became angry, but immediately before the wedding, when it was too late to cancel, the decedent presented the widow with an agreement, which she executed after the lawyer the decedent procured for her attempted in haste but in evident good faith to review it for her. Upon the decedent’s death, the widow petitioned the probate court to invalidate the prenuptial agreement, while the first wife argued in favor of upholding it. The probate court concluded that the prenuptial agreement was valid and enforceable. On appeal, the widow argued, among others, that the prenuptial agreement was not voluntary because it was the product of duress and undue influence.
Under the circumstances, should the prenuptial agreement be invalidated?
The high court held that even though New Hampshire had not adopted a rule holding last-minute agreements invalid per se, the circumstances in question indicated involuntariness. The lawyer, barely out of law school, had little time for independent review and recalled the widow crying for hours on end. The decedent's general conduct, and other evidence indicating he had been less than candid in his financial disclosure as well, provided further reason to invalidate the agreement.