Dear Moneyist,

My friend’s father was a widower who had roughly $5 million in stocks. He was 84 when he met and soon married his younger bride (a nurse who was 60 at the time, divorced with grown children). She signed a prenuptial agreement when they married. A few years later he told his children that he believed she was a gold digger. At 90, he developed kidney disease and died. A surprise will was signed 10 days before his death indicating that his estate should be split evenly among his wife and her two children. She is the executor of the new will.

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After six months, she finally told the children that he died broke, with no explanation about the stocks. The will he’d signed right before he died specifically made the prenuptial agreement invalid. I wonder if an irrevocable trust with his children as the non-removable successor trustees might have turned out better than a will that could have been replaced? The attorney who wrote the prenuptial agreement and the original will died two years after their wedding.

This is a man with a Ph.D. in economics, who taught finance and economics at a small college. I worked in the financial arena and was just dumbfounded when I saw that a new will had been signed 10 days before he died. His children were heartbroken that he cared so little for them that he would not have taken better care of his estate, which he had promised to do. Do you think that someone with advanced kidney disease is in any condition to read and understand a will? What kind of chance do we have of challenging the will and seeing some of my friend’s father’s estate?


Dear Steve,

An estate lawyer will tell you whether a 90-year-old man in the latter stages of kidney disease with a Ph.D. in economics, who suspected his wife was a gold digger, is fit to write a will designed to overturn a prenup 10 days before he dies. Then again, sometimes the answers write themselves.

The opinion of Barrera Sanchez & Associates, a law firm in McAllen, Texas: It’s complicated. A prenuptial agreement is a legal contract between two people and may supersede a will, especially if the latter does not mention the prenuptial agreement.

Even so, a prenuptial agreement can and will supersede a last will and testament in certain situations, the firm says. “If there has been an alteration of circumstances that have led to the agreement of different terms other than those stated in your prenuptial agreement, a postnuptial agreement must be signed. The court will determine which document holds more power and will distribute the estate in accordance.”

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Don’t take his widow’s word for it that the cupboard is bare. Typically, an inventory of a person’s estate will include an appraisal of real property by a “disinterested appraiser,” according to Perkins Thompson, a law firm based in Portland, Maine. “Such an appraisal is important for future tax purposes.”

The will itself should be filed with the local probate court in the county where your friend’s father died. “Probate administration consists of collecting the assets of a decedent, paying or settling the decedent’s just debts and liabilities, and distributing the remaining assets to the beneficiaries named in the decedent’s will, or, in the absence of a will, to the individual’s legal heirs as defined by state law,” Perkins Thompson adds.

Your friend’s father may not have had the mental capacity to write a new will. Call a lawyer. An irrevocable trust may have been a better solution for a man with declining health, but there’s no use in debating what might have been. There may be hope that his children will see some of this estate.

Do you have questions about inheritance, tipping, weddings, family feuds, friends or any tricky issues relating to manners and money? Send them to MarketWatch’s Moneyist and please include the state where you live (no full names will be used).

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