The question, “What happens if you sign a prenuptial agreement and your husband dies?’’, is one that every fiancée (or rather their family solicitor) should ask before a prenuptial agreement is signed. This is because although prenuptial agreements record how assets will be divided should a couple separate or divorce, the agreement can also set out how much a spouse will receive if their husband or wife dies. The prenuptial agreement could state that a spouse cannot make a claim against the estate if the will is consistent with the terms of the prenuptial agreement.

Many people query the point of putting in details of what a husband or wife will receive following their spouse’s death, in the prenuptial agreement. After all, prenuptial agreements are about separation or divorce and wills are for death and estate planning.  However, as Manchester divorce solicitors we normally say that it is a good idea to detail what provision will be made available to a spouse in the event of a death. This is especially the case where there are children from earlier relationships to consider or where a spouse does not plan to leave their entire estate to their husband or wife.

The case of Mrs Hendry

The widely reported case of Mrs Hendry is an excellent example of why it is important to have a prenuptial agreement and how it can assist if there is a claim against the estate.

Mrs Hendry came from the Philippines to marry her husband. Mr Hendry already had two adult children from a prior relationship, the youngest of whom was twenty-one at the date of Mr Hendry’s death.

The marriage between Mr and Mrs Hendry did not last. Mrs Hendry filed for divorce and asked the family court to give her half of Mr Hendry’s assets. Mr Hendry died before the family court decided how the money should be divided.

Mr Hendry’s will left his estate to his children and Mrs Hendry was left a small pension. Negotiations started between Mrs Hendry and the two children. Mrs Hendry wanted half the estate of her late husband. The children initially offered her what she would have got under the couple’s signed prenuptial agreement. They later offered her a third of the estate.

Agreement could not be reached between the widow and children, resulting in Mrs Hendry making a claim against the estate. Mrs Hendry asked the court to make ‘’reasonable provision’’ for her from the estate under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. The judge rejected the claim because Mrs Hendry had not made the application within the six-month deadline from the date of grant of Probate.

What makes the case interesting to Manchester divorce solicitors and lawyers advising on wills and claims against estates is that Mr and Mrs Hendry signed a prenuptial agreement prior to the marriage. The prenuptial agreement said, in the event of a divorce, Mrs Hendry would get a payment of £10,000 and a one-way ticket back to the Philippines.

It is not clear from the media court case reports what, if anything, the prenuptial agreement said about what would happen if Mr Hendry predeceased Mrs Hendry. However, the judge dealing with the estate claim commented on the fact that the prenuptial agreement only made limited financial provision for her.

In the case of Mrs Hendry, she was time barred from making a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. However, if she had not been time barred, the fact that she had signed a prenuptial agreement and was separated from Mr Hendry at the time of his death would have been weighed up, together with  the circumstances surrounding the signing of the prenuptial agreement and the needs of Mr Hendry’s children.

What can we learn from the case of Mr and Mrs Hendry?

There are some simple lessons we can take from this particular case:

  • The importance of signing a prenuptial agreement, and preferably detailing what provision should be made on both divorce and death for a spouse (the estate provision is normally more generous if the couple are living together at the time of the spouse’s death);
  • The need to review wills after a separation or divorce and, if necessary, amend them and/or provide a letter of explanation for testamentary bequests;
  • The importance of complying with deadlines if you want to make a claim against an estate and the benefits of taking specialist legal advice.

 

For information on prenuptial agreements and financial settlements on divorce or claims against estates please call Alison Barnett on +44 (0) 1477 464020 or email Alison at [email protected]