Whether a shift of the burden of persuasion on the legality and enforceability of a prenuptial agreement may be warranted by the special relationship between betrothed parties.
Yes. If a spouse establishes a fact-based, particularized inequality in the spousal relationship, the burden of disproving fraud, deception, or undue influence in the prenuptial agreement should fall on the proponent of the prenuptial agreement.
Appellant Helen Greiff and Herman Greiff entered into reciprocal prenuptial agreements. Each expressed the waiver of the statutory right of election as against the estate of the other. Helen was 65 years of age and Herman was 77 when they married. Three months after their marriage, Herman died. His will made no provision for his surviving spouse, instead leaving the entire estate to his children from a prior marriage. Helen sought a statutory elective share of the estate and Herman's children argued that the prenuptial agreements precluded Helen from exercising a right of election against her husband's estate. The Surrogate in the King's County Surrogate's Court found that Herman "was in a position of great influence and advantage" in his relationship with his wife to be, and that he was able to subordinate her interests, to her prejudice and detriment. The Surrogate's Court granted a statutory elective share of Herman's estate to the surviving spouse. Reversing on the law, the Appellate Division said that Helen failed her burden of showing that the prenuptial agreement was obtained through Herman's fraud. The Court of Appeals reversed the Appellate Division and remitted the case to that court for its determination.
Prepared by the liibulletin-ny Editorial Board.