In the Matter of the Estate of James J. Gillette

Docket No. A-3739-18T4

Decided May 22, 2020

Submitted by New Jersey Family Law Firm, Hark and Hark.

In a recent unpublished decision the Appellate Division reviewed the validity of a prenuptial agreement (“prenup”) after a husband, worth millions, passed away.

In Gillette, husband and wife entered into a prenuptial agreement prior to their marriage.  Both parties were represented by independent counsel during negotiation and execution of the prenup.  The prenup provided both parties the marital residence in the event of the death of the other spouse.  The prenup also provided the same for the jointly own business.  Husband agreed to pass his New York apartment to Wife.  The prenup provided for a revocable trust for the benefit of the wife in the amount of $500,000.

The prenup also noted that both husband and wife owned separate property.  Explicitly provided in the prenuptial agreement was wife’s waiver of any right of election to take against husband’s Last Will and Testament.  This included any separate property husband would acquire.  Attached to the prenup as exhibits were financial disclosures of each party.

Husband passed away, and wife sought to challenge the prenuptial agreement and make claim against husband’s estate.  Wife alleged husband failed to disclose his full financial status at the time of entering the prenup, and that the agreement was fraudulent and unconscionable.  Wife provided evidence that husband was worth in excess of $16,000,000.  Wife sued husband’s estate in probate court.

The trial judge ruled that wife’s claims against the estate and the prenup were meritless. Besides the fact that wife brought her claim more than one year after the statute of limitations passed, the judge found that the prenup was valid.  Husband provided a financial disclosure with the prenup and wife was represented by independent counsel during negotiation and execution of the prenup.  The judge dismissed wife’ lawsuit.

Wife appealed. The Appellate Division affirmed, for substantially the same reasons.  Prenuptial agreements are enforceable assuming full disclosure of financial conditions, knowledge and acceptance of the terms and conditions of the agreement, and the agreement is fair and not unconscionable.  The Appellate Division found that husband provided financial disclosure and the terms of the agreement were not unconscionable.

Prenups are vital for the protection of assets for individuals with a lot of money and assets.  Business interests, investments, retirement accounts, trusts, bonds, stocks, savings, and bank accounts can all be subject to a prenup.  The prenup can remain in place for the protection of assets even after death.  If you have significant assets and are contemplating marriage, you should strongly consider discussing a prenup with a matrimonial attorney.

At Hark & Hark, we help clients with prenups, divorce, custody, domestic violence, child support, alimony issues and more.

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Stay safe.

Michael J. Collis, Esquire

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Criminal Civil Lawyer

Jeffrey Hark is a New Jersey Civil and Criminal Lawyer.

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