In re Estate of Cooper

Facts: Husband and Wife executed a prenuptial agreement disclaiming any interest the marital appreciation of the other party’s premarital property (for Husband, this meant his residence, farm equipment, and cattle farm).  Husband died. Wife filed a petition seeking her elective share of Husband’s estate. Husband’s executor—his son from a prior marriage—argued that the prenuptial agreement defeated Wife’s claim. Wife challenged the validity of the prenuptial agreement, claiming she was not aware of the value of Husband’s premarital estate at the time she signed the prenuptial agreement.  The relevant statute is Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-3-501, which provides as follows:

Notwithstanding any other provision of law to the contrary, except as provided in § 36-3-502, any antenuptial or prenuptial agreement entered into by spouses concerning property owned by either spouse before the marriage that is the subject of such agreement shall be binding upon any court having jurisdiction over such spouses and/or such agreement if such agreement is determined, in the discretion of such court, to have been entered into by such spouses freely, knowledgeably and in good faith and without exertion of duress or undue influence upon either spouse. The terms of such agreement shall be enforceable by all remedies available for enforcement of contract terms.

The Court of Appeals enforced the prenuptial agreement, stating:

[T]he record reveals that Ms. Cooper had “an accurate understanding of the nature and extent of [Deceased’s] property interests” at the time she signed the Antenuptial Contract. Ms. Cooper herself testified that Deceased was honest with her and that she had the opportunity to ask questions about his holdings, but she chose not to do so. The Trial Court found that Ms. Cooper had entered into the Antenuptial Contract knowledgeably. The evidence in the record on appeal does not preponderate against this finding.

In re Estate of Cooper (Tenn. Ct. App. Mar. 9, 2010).

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K.O. Herston is a family-law attorney in Knoxville, Tennessee whose practice is devoted exclusively to family law, including divorce, child custody, child support, alimony, prenuptial agreements, and other aspects of family law.

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