Do you need a Pre-Nup?

By: Timothy J. Colgan, Family Lawyer

“I love you with all my heart, but…”

The gossip columns have been on fire with the news of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s long-anticipated marriage. The only question more popular than “Why did it take them so long?” is “Did they sign a pre-nup?” Public record indicates they did (to the tune of $270 million). But pre-nups are no longer limited to movie stars and professional athletes. Many couples, especially brides or grooms who are bringing substantial assets into the marriage, are drawing up these documents.

If you are contemplating a pre-nuptial agreement so that you don’t end up in a divorce and lawyer situation, there are several important factors to consider:

  • Full disclosure is critical. Failure to provide full disclosure at the outset may jeopardize the very protection you seek should the marriage fail. Pre-nuptial agreements are governed by Pennsylvania contract law and are legally binding.
  • Death does not nullify a pre-nup. The agreement is binding upon the decedent’s heirs.
  • Typically, assets acquired or jointly titled during the course of the marriage are marital property. If an individual owned an asset prior to the marriage, generally only the increase in value of that asset is marital property.
  • Family members cannot force you to sign a pre-nup. It is not unusual to see parents, who have substantial assets and who are not thrilled with their child’s choice of a mate, want to make sure if the marriage ends (as they often believe it will), that their assets will not be available to their former daughter- or son-in-law in their high net worth divorce. If they have that concern, there are other financial planning options available to them. Forcing anyone to sign an agreement against their will jeopardizes the validity of the document.
  • Pre-nups take time to create and should be carefully reviewed. Don’t wait until three days before the wedding to decide you want one, otherwise you may need family mediation services. Plan in advance and provide your future spouse plenty of time to review the agreement independently with their own lawyer.

We always prefer to plan for happy endings—and pre-nups presume an unhappy ending, but if the document’s protections make sense for your unique situation, or if you’d like to know more about other ways to guard your assets, give me a call at (717) 502-5000. As a family law lawyer with offices in Harrisburg and York, I handle cases all across Central Pennsylvania. I’m happy to help and I look forward to hearing from you.

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