What Happens When Domestic Agreements And Estate Documents Conflict?
Imagine this, quite common scenario: You plan ahead, visit your estate attorney, and put together a complete estate plan, designed to avoid probate and ensure that the things you own, pass easily and quickly, with as little court intervention by the probate court as possible.
Years go by, and you end up getting divorced. You sign a divorce agreement (sometimes called a marital settlement agreement), which gives certain property to your spouse.
When you pass, it turns out there is a problem: Some of the things you agreed to in your marital settlement agreement conflict with your estate plan. Your beneficiaries, seeking to inherit what you intended to leave them, believe that the probate court should follow what you left in your will, or other estate documents.
But your ex spouse, meaning what you promised you would give, wants your marital settlement agreement to take precedence over your estate plan.
How The Conflict Happens
This scenario sometimes happens innocently, such as when people don’t remember making an estate plan, or remember what’s in it, and settle a divorce without thinking of whether there is a conflict, but it can also happen more insidiously, such as when someone purposely drafts an estate plan later, purposely conflicting with (and trying to avoid) a prior-agreed-to marital settlement agreement.
How It’s Handled in Probate
When there is a conflict, your ex spouse is treated like a creditor in the probate court. Your ex spouse will have the ability to object to the administration of your estate, and object to the terms and conditions of any will or other estate document.
Your ex spouse in this way is treated like any other creditor would, who claims that they have some claim on the assets of your estate, that take priority over what you wanted to happen to those assets.
As a general rule, any contract you enter into during your divorce, will take precedence over any conflicting provision of any estate plan you draft, whether the estate plan documents were drafted before or after the marital settlement agreement.
This rule applies in any domestic agreement, including separation agreements, prenuptial or post nuptial agreements.
Prenuptial Agreement Problems
Prenuptial agreements present another legal problem. The prenuptial agreement is valid and applicable when couples divorce. But what about when a spouse dies, while still married? Does the prenuptial still take precedence over any conflicting wills or other estate documents in the probate court?
Some courts may say no, which means that the probate court probates the estate just like it would normally. Note that some prenuptial agreements specifically say that they apply both in the event of death and divorce, in which case, the prenuptial agreement would again take precedence over any estate documents.
Like any document, anybody seeking to challenge the validity or enforceability of a prenuptial or similar domestic agreement, can make that challenge in the probate court.
Looking to challenge a will or trust or something in probate court? Ask us for help. Call the West Palm Beach probate lawyers at The Law Offices of Larry E. Bray today for help understanding your rights in probate court.