Spousal Inheritance Rights Can Be Waived by a Prenuptial Agreement

Spousal-Rights-300x181A very common aspect in New York estate settlement and estate litigation concerns the rights of a surviving spouse.  The New York Probate Lawyer Blog has published numerous posts concerning spousal rights and decedent’s estates.

Estate lawyers in New York are aware that state statutes such as the Estates, Powers and Trusts Laws (EPTL) and the Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act (SCPA) provide a surviving spouse with certain preferential rights.  For instance, if a person dies intestate without a Last Will and Testament, EPTL Section 4-1.1 entitled “Descent and distribution of a decedent’s estate” provides that a surviving spouse receives the first $50,000.00 of the estate and fifty percent (50%) of the balance of the estate to be distributed.  Also, if a decedent leaves a Last Will but fails to provide for a spouse, EPTL Section 5-1.1-A entitled “Right of election by surviving spouse” allows a disinherited spouse to elect to receive one-third (1/3) of the estate.  This election includes assets defined as testamentary substitutes which include items such as joint assets.

Spousal rights are provided in other areas such as estate tax.  For both New York and Federal estate tax, generally, all assets left to a surviving spouse are subject to a full marital deduction and not subject to estate taxation.

The rights afforded to spouses can be affected in a number of ways.  Most commonly, a spouse may lose inheritance rights due to a divorce or agreements such as pre- or post-nuptial waivers.  Of course, there may be disputes regarding the standing of a spouse and whether the person claiming rights was validly married to a decedent.

Spousal rights recently were an issue in a Brooklyn estate case entitled Estate of Kevelson, decided by Brooklyn Surrogate Rosemarie Montalbano on March 8, 2023.  In Kevelson, the decedent left a Last Will which was submitted to the Surrogate’s Court for probate.  The decedent’s spouse filed objections to the Will.  The Will proponent sought to dispose of the objections and produced a prenuptial agreement in which the decedent and the spouse waived all rights to share in each other’s estate.

The Court was asked to determine the validity of the agreement.  Among the arguments put forward by the spouse in attempting to invalidate the agreement was that the agreement was rescinded due to the decedent’s failure to perform according to the terms of the document and that it has been rescinded and/or revoked.

After reviewing the language of the agreement and the relevant caselaw, the Court found the agreement to be valid and admissible as evidence.  The Court noted that the prenuptial agreement was presumptively valid and that failure to perform under the agreement and any revocation could not, pursuant to the terms of the agreement, be a basis for the agreement to be invalidated in its entirety.  Thus, the proponent of the Will would not be precluded from offering the agreement into evidence.

As can be seen from Kevelson, probating a Will in Surrogate’s Court can be complicated.  The assistance of an experienced trust and estate attorney can be essential.  I have been representing clients in Probate and Surrogate’s Court cases for more than forty (40) years.  Do you have a question regarding an estate?  Call Me Now for a free confidential review of your estate matter.  We offer reasonable and flexible fee arrangements and personal representation.

New York Trusts and Estates Attorney Jules Martin Haas has helped many clients over the past 40 years resolve issues relating to guardianship and probate and estate settlement throughout New York City including the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Nassau and Suffolk County.  If you or someone you know has any questions regarding these matters, please contact me at (212) 355-2575 for an initial free consultation.

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