Premarital Agreement Survives Challenge

Elder Law Answers case summary.The Mississippi Court of Appeals upholds a premarital agreement preventing a husband from inheriting from his wife. In the Estate of Charles James Bell Jr. v. the Estate of Sarah Dell Mann Bell (Miss. Ct. App., No. 2021-CA-00789-COA, February 21, 2023).

Shortly before their marriage, Mr. Charles Bell and Mrs. Sarah Dell Mann Bell signed a prenuptial agreement. The agreement stated that they would each retain their property rights separately as if they had never married. They also waived spousal rights to take from each other’s wills.

When they married, they were both 62 years old. Mr. Bell had two children from a previous marriage, and Mrs. Bell had a close relationship with the children of her sister, Mrs. Bonnie Simpson.

Mrs. Bell predeceased her husband, and her will gave him nothing. She left her property, including the home where she and her husband lived, to her sister. She left her residual estate to her niece and nephew in trust. Her will allowed her husband to remain on the property with her heir’s consent.

Mr. Bell contested the will and challenged the validity of the premarital agreement, alleging it was unconscionable and unenforceable. The chancery court found that the agreement was valid and enforceable and that Mr. Bell waived any right to inherit from his wife. Mr. Bell appealed.

On appeal, Mr. Bell argued that his late wife’s will revoked the premarital agreement when it voided all previous wills and testaments. Since it did not transfer, devise, or bequeath any property, the agreement was nontestamentary. The will did not affect the prenuptial agreement.

Mr. Bell also asserted he had the right to inherit under Mississippi Code Annotated section 91-5-27. Section 91-5-27 requires surviving spouses to renounce their inheritance rights formally. He stressed that the premarital contract did not reference section 91-5-27. This argument fails. When the premarital agreement preserved their property rights as if they had not been married, Mr. Bell waived his spousal share. A specific reference to section 91-5-27 was unnecessary.

The prenuptial agreement was proper despite Mr. Bell’s assertions that it was unconscionable. Although Mr. Bell had less than his wife, she disclosed her assets. The marriage constituted consideration for the contract. As consideration, Mr. Bell received a bride and marriage, the ability to live in his wife’s home, and the right to exclude his wife from his estate distribution.

The antenuptial agreement was valid because Mrs. Bell’s will did not revoke it, and there was consideration for the contract. Mrs. Bell’s will was valid, as Mr. Bell waived his right to inherit when he entered the premarital agreement.

Read the full opinion here.