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Kevin O'Flaherty

In this article, we answer some common and not so common questions about Iowa premarital agreements. The questions will include:

  • How is a premarital agreement used in estate planning?
  • How do elective shares work in Iowa estate planning?
  • If no estate planning exists, how much is a surviving spouse entitled to?
  • Why would someone waive their elective share rights in a prenuptial agreement?
  • Can premarital agreements be voided after execution?
  • Do I need legal help to draft and execute a premarital agreement?
  • What terms should be included in an Iowa premarital agreement?
  • If a premarital agreement has ambiguous terms, can parol evidence help?
  • Can I get equity beyond my elective share for an asset I paid into?
  • What happens if my premarital agreement and my will do not agree?
  • Can a prenuptial agreement be amended at any time?
  • Can a prenuptial agreement be nullified by destroying it?

Premarital agreements are less common among younger couples without children who are marrying for the first or second time. However, older couples who have children from a previous marriage are more likely to make use of a premarital agreement to permanently set aside an inheritance for those children.

How Is A Premarital Agreement Used In Estate Planning?

Most think of premarital agreements as a way of protecting one’s assets from a spouse who may be in the marriage for the wrong reasons, but they work very as an estate planning tool that sets aside a portion of the spouse’s assets that are meant for his or her children from a previous marriage. In Iowa, if no premarital agreement exists the spouse has the choice of taking whatever was listed in the decedent’s testamentary documents or receive an “elective share.” The prenuptial agreement can help clear up any animosity around making a decision between taking an elective share or what is listed in a will.

How Do Elective Shares Work In Iowa Estate Planning?

Under Iowa probate law, the surviving spouse can take all personal property that is exempt from probate. This would be things like joint tenant assets, life insurance proceeds, etc. They should also receive one-third equity of all real property and one-third of the assets left over after all the decedent’s debts are settled in probate. The surviving spouse also has the option to occupy the primary homestead in-lieu of taking one-third in equity.

If No Estate Planning Exists, How Much Is A Surviving Spouse Entitled To?

If the estate is deemed intestate, spouses can receive an elective share of one-third of the estate. However, if a premarital agreement exists, the court will consider the terms of that agreement before making a decision.

Why Would Someone Waive Their Elective Share Rights In A Prenuptial Agreement?

Elective share waivers effectively limit a spouse’s inheritance to the terms of the prenuptial agreement. This protects the inheritance of one or both spouse’s beneficiaries established prior to the marriage. Having both a prenuptial agreement and will in place clears up any confusion as to who is to receive what during the estate administration.

Can Premarital Agreements Be Voided After Execution?

In order for a premarital agreement to be considered legal, it must be in writing and executed properly. This means witnesses and notary. If a married couple wants to terminate the agreement that must do so in writing, and both must agree to the termination. 

If one or both spouses do not fully disclose their financial and real estate information before waiving their elective share rights, the court will consider the prenuptial agreement invalid. This is sometimes seen when couples try to hide money in an account unknown to the other spouse as a method to secure elective share rights.

Do I Need Legal Help To Draft Or Execute A Premarital Agreement?

While there are forms that you can fill out on your own, having an experienced probate attorney review any self work significantly decreases the likelihood for an unwanted surprise at probate. In general, it is better to have an attorney draft and review and prenuptial agreement to make sure it will hold up in court. Furthermore, separate legal counsel should represent each spouse. If a prenuptial agreement was generated and executed by the same attorney the court may question it’s equity, especially if it seems that one spouse got a raw deal.

What Terms Should Be Included In An Iowa Prenuptial Agreement?

Iowa estate planning prenuptial agreements are not required by law to include any certain item or topic. However, a great majority will include the estate asset each spouse owns and is bringing into the marriage, how the parties intend to share estate assets during the marriage, who gets what if they get divorced, and whether alimony will be awarded if the marriage ends.

If A Premarital Agreement Has Ambiguous Terms, Can Parol Evidence Help?

Under Iowa law, parol evidence cannot be used to help interpret unclear contracts. If the original contract has terms that are ambiguous, neither party has the right to present outside evidence in order to establish the validity or meaning of the agreement. Ultimately, the judge presiding over the case will use his or her best judgment to interpret any waivers or provisions in the agreement.

Can I Get Equity Beyond My Elective Share For An Asset I Paid Into?

If a property is in your spouse’s name and it is not addressed specifically in the prenuptial agreement, or generally by a blanket provision concerning shared property rights, you most likely will not be able to recover any money paid into the property. However, if you can prove to the court that your spouse consistently allowed you to pay the mortgage, or paid into some other aspect of the property, some courts will rule that your spouse abandoned the terms of the premarital agreement by acting in a way in contrast with its provisions.

What Happens If My Premarital Agreement And My Will Do Not Agree?

In general, premarital agreements will supersede any conflicting provisions found in testamentary documents. However, the court will attempt to rectify the differences between the two, and if one has more clear and defined terms than the other, then the judge will usually go with the less ambiguous option.

Can A Prenuptial Agreement Be Amended At Any Time?

As long as both spouses approve of the changes in writing through the proper legal channels, then the agreement can be modified.

Can A Prenuptial Agreement Be Nullified By Destroying It?

The only way a prenuptial agreement can be terminated or nullified is if both spouses agree to the termination or if one spouse commits an act listed under a provision of the contract that results in termination. Simply burning the document or ripping it to pieces does not nullify the agreement. However, if there are no more copies it would make interpreting the intent of the agreement difficult.

Disclaimer: The information provided on this blog is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject matter. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute an attorney-client relationship. Each individual's legal needs are unique, and these materials may not be applicable to your legal situation. Always seek the advice of a competent attorney with any questions you may have regarding a legal issue. Do not disregard professional legal advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog.


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