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Agreement Between Spouses Voided Ten Years After Signing

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Reported court cases involving prenuptial agreements sometimes seem to be confused and contradictory. State laws governing such agreements vary somewhat, but the outcome of a challenge is almost always dependent on the peculiar facts in each case.

Consider the prenuptial agreement signed by John and Erin Hollett on the morning of their 1990 wedding. They had dated for six years and had discussed prenuptial agreements in concept—in fact they had at least one heated argument about the idea two years before they got married. They had not, however, discussed whether or not they would sign one—until two days before the wedding date.

John Hollett was thirty years older than his new wife. He was a successful real estate developer in New Hampshire, and worth about six million dollars. She, on the other hand, was worth about five thousand dollars, had dropped out of high school and had worked as a bartender and cashier.

Mr. Hollett’s lawyers knew state law would require that Mrs. Hollett have independent legal advice before signing any agreement. They contacted Brian Shaughnessy, who had been a lawyer for just one year at that point, and asked if he would be willing to represent the soon-to-be Mrs. Hollett. They promised to pay his legal fees, and he called and invited her to his office.

The day before the scheduled wedding, with 200 guests invited, Mr. Shaughnessy met with his client for the first and only time. Although he was not very experienced, Mr. Shaughnessy could see that the proposed agreement was not very favorable to his client and that the financial disclosure from Mr. Hollett was sketchy. His efforts resulted in an agreement that guaranteed Mrs. Hollett up to one-sixth of her husband’s estate upon divorce or his death, and the agreement was signed on the morning of the wedding.

The couple lived together for over a decade, until Mr. Hollett’s death in 2001. Mrs. Hollett then moved to have the agreement declared invalid, arguing that she had signed it under duress. The New Hampshire Supreme Court agreed, ruling that the sharp disparity in bargaining positions, the rushed nature of the agreement and the behavior of Mr. Hollett in secreting his intentions made the agreement unenforceable. Estate of Hollett, September 26, 2003.

The Hollett case is strikingly similar to another case described in Elder Law Issues just two years ago—but with a different outcome. In the earlier case, involving Frances and Eugene Ingmand, the Iowa courts upheld an agreement sprung on Mrs. Ingmand three days before the wedding. The difference is in the facts, and probably in the disparity between the Holletts’ business experience. Prenuptial agreements are enforceable, but only if the rules are carefully followed.

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Robert B. Fleming


Robert Fleming is a Fellow of both the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. He has been certified as a Specialist in Estate and Trust Law by the State Bar of Arizona‘s Board of Legal Specialization, and he is also a Certified Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation. Robert has a long history of involvement in local, state and national organizations. He is most proud of his instrumental involvement in the Special Needs Alliance, the premier national organization for lawyers dealing with special needs trusts and planning.

Robert has two adult children, two young grandchildren and a wife of over fifty years. He is devoted to all of them. He is also very fond of Rosalind Franklin (his office companion corgi), and his homebound cat Muninn. He just likes people, their pets and their stories.

Elizabeth N.R. Friman


Elizabeth Noble Rollings Friman is a principal and licensed fiduciary at Fleming & Curti, PLC. Elizabeth enjoys estate planning and helping families navigate trust and probate administrations. She is passionate about the fiduciary work that she performs as a trustee, personal representative, guardian, and conservator. Elizabeth works with CPAs, financial professionals, case managers, and medical providers to tailor solutions to complex family challenges. Elizabeth is often called upon to serve as a neutral party so that families can avoid protracted legal conflict. Elizabeth relies on the expertise of her team at Fleming & Curti, and as the Firm approaches its third decade, she is proud of the culture of care and consideration that the Firm embodies. Finding workable solutions to sensitive and complex family challenges is something that Elizabeth and the Fleming & Curti team do well.

Amy F. Matheson


Amy Farrell Matheson has worked as an attorney at Fleming & Curti since 2006. A member of the Southern Arizona Estate Planning Council, she is primarily responsible for estate planning and probate matters.

Amy graduated from Wellesley College with a double major in political science and English. She is an honors graduate of Suffolk University Law School and has been admitted to practice in Arizona, Massachusetts, New York, and the District of Columbia.

Prior to joining Fleming & Curti, Amy worked for American Public Television in Boston, and with the international trade group at White & Case, LLP, in Washington, D.C.

Amy’s husband, Tom, is an astronomer at NOIRLab and the Head of Time Domain Services, whose main project is ANTARES. Sadly, this does not involve actual time travel. Amy’s twin daughters are high school students; Finn, her Irish Red and White Setter, remains a puppy at heart.

Famous people's wills

Matthew M. Mansour


Matthew is a law clerk who recently earned his law degree from the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law. His undergraduate degree is in psychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Matthew has had a passion for advocacy in the Tucson community since his time as a law student representative in the Workers’ Rights Clinic. He also has worked in both the Pima County Attorney’s Office and the Pima County Public Defender’s Office. He enjoys playing basketball, caring for his cat, and listening to audiobooks narrated by the authors.