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Prenuptial Pact Prevents Wife’s Claim Against Probate Estate

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Jerry Cantrell lived in Tennessee and owned property there and in Kentucky. Mr. Cantrell was single, but had five adult children from a former marriage. In 1994, he saw Analyn Rojo’s picture in a mail-order bride magazine, and he got in touch with Ms. Rojo. They arranged to meet in Vancouver in October, and began to live together there.

In January, 1997, Ms. Rojo delivered Mr. Cantrell’s son. The couple decided they should consider getting married, and so they traveled to Kentucky to make the arrangements. In March, Mr. Cantrell consulted his Louisville, Kentucky, lawyer about preparing a prenuptial agreement.

Mr. Cantrell’s lawyer advised him that Kentucky law permitted prenuptial agreements, but only if both parties entered into the agreement voluntarily and had fully disclosed their assets to one another. In order to make sure the prenuptial would be enforceable later, Mr. Cantrell arranged for Ms. Rojo to be represented by her own attorney. She met privately with her attorney for half an hour on February 27 and again the next day.

Meanwhile, Mr. Cantrell’s attorney had prepared a prenuptial agreement. Under the proposed agreement, Ms. Rojo and Mr. Cantrell each waived any right they might have to inherit from the other’s estate, and waived any claims they might have for support during probate proceedings. He also attached a list of Mr. Cantrell’s assets for Ms. Rojo’s review.

On February 28, the couple and their lawyers met. Ms. Rojo looked at Mr. Cantrell’s property list for about three seconds, and then signed the agreement. Three days later, the couple was married.

Mr. Cantrell died eight months after the marriage. Ms. Rojo (now Mrs. Cantrell) filed a request for temporary support from the estate, as well as asserting her right to inherit a portion of Mr. Cantrell’s assets. His adult children objected, citing the prenuptial agreement.

Mrs. Cantrell claimed that she had not had sufficient time to review Mr. Cantrell’s assets when the agreement was signed, and that he had threatened her with deportation in order to secure her signature. The Tennessee court refused to permit her testimony about threats, and determined that her failure to review the asset list was her own fault; the prenuptial agreement was upheld.

The Tennessee Court of Appeals agreed with the trial judge, while noting that the claims of Mr. Cantrell’s minor child might not have been disposed of by Mrs. Cantrell’s signing. The prenuptial agreement, however, complied with both Kentucky and Tennessee requirements, and precluded Mrs. Cantrell from now asserting any claim against the estate. Cantrell v. Estate of Cantrell, December 30, 1999.

Arizona law would probably lead to the same result. Prenuptial agreements are permissible, provided that both parties enter into the agreement freely and with full disclosure of the assets owned by the other spouse-to-be. Failure to spend the time necessary to review the financial disclosure would probably not be grounds for invalidating an Arizona agreement.

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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.

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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.