What happens if there is unclear language in a prenuptial agreement, will it be enforced by the court?
An example is the case of the Estate of Timmer. In the case the court was asked to decide how the language in the prenuptial agreement applied to a condo after both had passed away.
Each party was previously married and had children from their previous marriage. They also had assets from their previous lives and marriages. The prenuptial stated contained a paragraph that indicated that they could purchase jointly held property. The jointly held property would basically pass to the other spouse by operation of the law and be exempted from the prenuptial agreement. There was an additional sentence which specifically stated that they intended to purchase a condo (the condo at issue). The condo would be held jointly by the parties and included language that it would pass to the other party upon death of either, but, it went on to say that the surviving spouse would retain a life estate in the property after the death of the first spouse to pass away.
The life estate would allow the surviving spouse to continue living in the condominium until he or she passed away and then it would be divided between the couple’s two estates. The prenuptial agreement did not state this intent specifically, rather it used conflicting legal terms which were inaccurate.
The problem is that it would not be necessary to reserve a life estate to the surviving spouse if the property was, to pass to the other party upon the death of the first spouse, because the entire property would be owned by the surviving spouse. This created an ambiguity in the prenuptial agreement.
The wife passed away first and the husband transferred the condominium to a trust for the benefit of his heirs. When he passed away the children of the wife requested a fifty percent interest in the condominium from the husband’s heirs, which they refused to grant. The two estates then sued each other in probate court.
The trial court should have considered evidence of the parties’ intent in drafting this agreement. This means that the Michigan Court of Appeals found that this ambiguity would allow the two competing estates to provide evidence from experts and other witnesses as to what they intended to do with this condominium, even though they couple signed this prenuptial agreement which they must have expected to deal with this issue.
The drafting lawyer should have used more specific language regarding how the parties intended to handle this property. The drafter, the husband's brother also used the wrong words when referring to the manner in which the property was to be held.
This ambiguity defeated the reason for the prenuptial agreement in the first place. The court may have decided that the intent was different then what the parties had really intended. Care must be taken to specifically explain the intent of the parties and use proper language that does not conflict and one should not use a relative to draft their legal documents.