Many couples sign a prenuptial (or antenuptial) agreement prior to marriage, which specifies the rights of each partner in the event of divorce or death. It is important to treat such agreements as part of your estate planning, as in many cases a prenup may amend or override a spouse’s potential inheritance rights under California law. Once the other partner has died, it is generally too late for the surviving spouse to do anything about it.
Court Finds Wife Waived Community Property, Inheritance Rights
Here is a recent example from a case in Merced County, California. This litigation involves a dispute between the wife of a deceased husband and her stepson (his child from a prior marriage). The husband and wife married in 1990. The day before their wedding the couple signed an antenuptial agreement drafted by the wife’s attorney.
Of importance here, the agreement stated that any property “owned by either of them at the time of their marriage and all property that may come to either of them from any source during their marriage shall be their respective separate property.” In other words, neither of the individual spouses’ property, whether acquired before or after marriage, would become “community property,” unless the parties expressly agreed otherwise. This is a departure from the normal rule in California, which presumes any property acquired during a marriage is community property, with each spouse retaining a one-half ownership interest.
In September 2009, the husband filed for divorce. Just two months later, he died, leaving no will and still married to his wife. A few months later, a California probate court appointed the stepson as administrator of his father’s estate. At this point, the wife and stepson clashed over the ownership of several classic cars and related items. The husband had restored and sold such cars for profit.
The stepson argued the cars still in his father’s possession at the time of his death was property of the estate, since the antenuptial agreement precluded the creation of any community property. The wife argued the agreement was “ambiguous” and insisted the vehicles should be treated as community property. As a surviving spouse, she would be entitled to inherit 100% of the community property.
The courts sided with the stepson. The Court of Appeal, affirming an earlier decision by the probate court, said there was nothing ambiguous about the antenuptial agreement—there was no community property at issue here. Even if there was community property, the antenuptial agreement constituted an “implicit waiver” of the wife’s inheritance rights under California law.
Get Advice from a California Estate Planning Lawyer
The above case is just an illustration and not a complete statement of California law. A qualified San Diego estate planning attorney can advise you on the legal ramifications of a prenuptial or antenuptial agreement on your inheritance rights. Remember, a prenuptial agreement is a contract, and like any contract, you should never sign on the dotted line before seeking independent advice. If you have any questions, please contact the Law Office of Scott C. Soady right away.