In Rostanzo v. Rostanzo, Case No. 06-P-1953, 2009 Mass. App. LEXIS 100 (Jan. 29, 2009), the Appeals Court addressed the enforceability of an antenuptial agreement and the validity of a will.
In 1996, the decedent met the plaintiff, a Polish native, while visiting Poland. In August 2001, the plaintiff moved to Watertown to live with and marry the decedent. Prior to marrying, they entered into an antenuptial agreement. At first, the decedent's lawyer met with the plaintiff and decedent to draft the antenuptial agreement, with the plaintiff believing that the lawyer was representing both of them, but then the plaintiff retained her own lawyer, one who is fluent in Polish and could represent her interests alone, to negotiate the terms of the agreement. Immediately after the antenuptial agreement was signed, in January 2001, the decedent excused himself from the plaintiff and executed the will that had been drafted for him by his lawyer, and two days later the couple married. Three years later, in January 2005, the decedent passed away.
The antenuptial agreement provides in relevant part that the individual property the spouses brought to the marriage shall remain their individual property, and that, upon the death of one spouse, the other waives any and all interest in real estate held by the deceased individually or as a cotenant with anyone other than the surviving spouse. The decedent's will provides for a cash bequest to the plaintiff in the amount of $120,000, and nothing more.
The plaintiff argued that the antenuptial agreement is invalid because the decedent failed to disclose his liabilities (he had disclosed his assets, including real estate assets, but did not disclose mortgages on the real estate), because plaintiff was not represented by her own counsel, and because the agreement is not fair and reasonable. Based on the facts, the Appeals Court rejected these arguments. In finding the antenuptial agreement reasonable, which must be based on factors such as the parties' respective worth, ages, intelligence, literacy, business acumen, and prior family ties or commitments, the Court noted that both parties were "middle-aged" and that the plaintiff, while living in Poland, owned two businesses, a condominium, a bank account and an automobile.
The Appeals Court also rejected the plaintiff's argument to invalidate the will. Specifically, the plaintiff argued that the burden should not have been on her to prove the allegations stated in her affidavit of objections to the will, that the decedent had violated his confidential relationship with her by making a fraudulent oral promise to leave her certain property, despite the language of the antenuptial agreement, and that the will was procured through the undue influence of the decedent's lawyer. On the first point, the Appeals Court reasoned that the burden shifting prescribed by Cleary v. Cleary was inapplicable here. On the second point, the Court found that the decedent's alleged oral promise was unenforceable by reason of the statute of frauds. On the last point, the Court explained that there was no undue influence by the decedent's lawyer because, in part, he was simply giving his client estate planning advice (sound advice, according to the Court) and did not benefit personally. That the decedent chose not to leave more to his widow does not make it an "unnatural" disposition. He left the bulk of his estate to his children by a previous marriage. "A testamentary disposition is not 'unnatural' simply because it favors certain members of the testator's immediate family over others."