Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Rules Favorably on Validity of Postnuptial Agreements
In the 2010 Massachusetts case of Ansin v. Craven-Ansin, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled that postnuptial agreements can be valid under certain conditions. This case was brought by a disgruntled wife who had signed an agreement during the marriage on how the couple’s assets would be distributed upon a divorce, but the case has far-reaching ramifications and can be useful in the estate planning context.
A postnuptial agreement is essentially a prenuptial agreement that is entered into after the marriage has taken place. Either of these agreements can completely ignore divorce and child support issues and be limited solely to estate planning issues. Where many married couples (especially those with children from prior marriages) are concerned about what might be done with their inheritance by the surviving spouse, this case makes it clear that under Massachusetts law they can enter into a limited postnuptial agreement, which I refer to as an Estate Planning Agreement, to prevent the surviving spouse from later disinheriting the family of the first spouse to die.
There are other ways to protect the children from the previous marriage, but those other ways have limitations. For example, under Massachusetts law, a will contract can be entered into by a married couple to prevent the surviving spouse from changing his/her will; unfortunately, a will contract would only cover assets passing through probate, yet many assets pass free of probate. Further, some spouses establish a so-called QTIP trust to provide income for life to the surviving spouse, with the eventual inheritance going to the previous family; unfortunately, the surviving spouse would have the right to make a statutory election against the decedent’s will and trust and could end up with a lot more assets than was planned.
A limited postnuptial agreement that covers estate planning issues is a document that more and more married couples may be entering into in future years, due to the great increase in blended families.