What Happens When Your Spouse Dies and You Have a Prenup?

Prenuptial agreements are an increasingly common part of people’s marriages today. This isn’t just applicable to those with huge financial assets, either. Couples with relatively modest means are still using these agreements to protect their individual assets. That said, one of the mistakes people make is in thinking that the terms of a prenup only apply to circumstances such as divorce or infidelity. But this isn’t the only way you might be impacted by the agreement.

For instance, what happens when your spouse dies and you have a prenup? Certainly the death of your spouse isn’t something particularly pleasant to think about. Yet, painful as such an event will be, there can be some unexpected practical issues you might face as a result of the prenup. It’s important to have a good understanding of this both to ensure that the prenup you’re signing is suitable for your needs and to ascertain whether you might have any recourse to challenge it.

The Role of a Prenup

In essence, a prenuptial agreement — often referred to as a "prenup" or "premarital agreement" — is a legal document designed to establish the financial rights and responsibilities of each spouse. In the majority of cases, this is to protect parties in the event of a divorce. However, it can also have terms related to the death of the spouse, too. 

So, why might a couple be thinking about potential death or divorce at the outcome of their relationship? Well, it tends to be about safeguarding individual assets and preventing potential disputes over property division in the event of a divorce or separation. Without a prenuptial agreement, the distribution of assets is typically governed by state laws, both in the event of a death and a divorce. The prenup allows couples to customize the terms of asset division, ensuring that both parties are aware of their rights and responsibilities. It also helps to establish pre agreed guidelines for providing financial support to the surviving spouse while also safeguarding assets the owner wishes to pass on to a particular party without the potential for the spouse to challenge it.

Particularly in relation to a death, the prenup may be designed to prevent arguments related to how the assets are distributed among the surviving spouse, children, and other beneficiaries. Yes, a last will and testament is the most common tool for this. However, the prenup can reinforce these terms when it is aligned with a will and in some circumstances even supersede late changes to a will. In essence, the prenup is designed to remove any ambiguity into how an estate is to be handled.

How Death Impacts a Prenup

The passing of a spouse is an emotionally charged and challenging experience, and when coupled with legal intricacies, the situation becomes even more complex. It is, therefore, essential to collaborate with an experienced family law attorney, whether you’re the surviving spouse or you intend to make a prenuptial agreement before your marriage.

So, what is the first thing that happens in respect of the prenup when your spouse dies? Well, in simple cases, the terms of asset division upon death as outlined in the prenup will be maintained. The party managing the estate will review these terms alongside the last will and testament to ensure that everything is in order.

Florida is one of the 26 states that follow the Uniform Premarital Agreement Act (UPAA). This basically provides a framework for interpreting and enforcing prenuptial agreements. It is this framework that the estate’s managers will use to assess and apply the terms in relation to asset distribution. The UPAA establishes that the death of a spouse may trigger specific clauses related to death within the prenup. However, the UPAA doesn’t state that death clauses have to form part of a prenup, but rather that there is an option for them. Therefore, if there are no death clauses to trigger, the division of the estate may proceed on the basis of Florida probate law and/or the terms of the will. 

This highlights just how important the terms of a prenuptial agreement are. There needs to be clarity on distribution of assets in all given circumstances. If the primary requirement is to protect assets in the event of a divorce or an affair, then there isn’t necessarily a need to include death-related clauses. However, if the intention is to protect and distribute assets regardless of how the marriage ends, these death clauses are vital to include so that everybody has clarity over the intentions for the estate’s distribution.

Challenging a Prenup

While prenuptial agreements are designed to provide clarity and structure to financial matters in the event of a divorce or the death of a spouse, challenges and disputes can certainly arise. In Florida, contesting a prenup involves navigating specific legal grounds and presenting compelling arguments to set aside or modify the terms of the prenup. Your experienced family law attorney will be able to talk you through the circumstances that allow for this and help you compile supporting documents. Nevertheless, it’s worth getting some clarity on what can be valid reasons for challenging a prenup after the death of your spouse.

These include:

Lack of full disclosure: This may be an effective argument if there is evidence that one party failed to fully disclose their financial assets, liabilities, or income before signing the prenuptial agreement. This can give the other party grounds to contest its application following the death of a spouse, as full disclosure is a fundamental requirement for a valid prenup. Any omissions — whether intentional or otherwise — could render the agreement unenforceable.

Duress or coercion: One of the common reasons for contesting a prenup is that either party was under duress or subjected to undue influence at the time of signing the prenuptial agreement. Effectively, this xxx that the agreement wasn’t willingly entered. There are various different types of coercion. These include threats, intimidation, or any form of pressure that significantly pushed the subject of the agreement to sign the paperwork.

Unconscionability: Under the terms of Florida law, a prenuptial agreement may be deemed unconscionable if its terms are grossly unfair or if one party did not have adequate legal representation. This often applies to situations where the surviving party receives nothing or very little. In these instances, it might be contested on grounds of unconscionability.

If you feel you have grounds for challenging the prenup following the death of your spouse, the first step is to consult with your family law or probate attorney. They’ll be able to examine the agreement paperwork itself, alongside discussing the circumstances that you believe invalidates the agreement. They can also help you to produce the most compelling case based on evidence that could range from paperwork to witness statements.

From here, your attorney can file a lawsuit with the relevant local Florida family court. This petition will outline the reasons you consider the terms of the prenup invalid, alongside paperwork that supports your case. As there is usually no other party signing the prenup other than you and your spouse, this isn’t often a lawsuit in which a third party would be served. Rather, the courts will review the circumstances to determine the agreement's validity and enforceability.

The court’s decision in your favor doesn’t necessarily mean you automatically become entitled to the estate. Rather, the outcome will usually be to either nullify or modify the terms of the prenup. From here, you may need to collaborate with your attorney to challenge the terms of the last will and testament or claims of other parties. This is a separate lawsuit in itself.

Call The Family Law Attorneys Men Trust (813) 415-3510

In Law We Trust Divorce and Family Lawyers is a premier firm of divorce lawyers representing men in family law proceedings. We have years of experience representing men who are navigating prenuptial agreements, including handling the complexities of challenging these following the death of a spouse. Our team’s experience and skills help to guide our clients through the hurdles of the Florida family law courts. Call us today and get the proper representation men need and deserve.



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