In this case the Appellate Division had to consider whether the spouse of a decedent was entitled to certain assets in his estate in light of the provisions of the couple’s prenuptial agreement. Upon the death of the husband, a dispute developed between the executor of the decedent’s estate and the decedent’s surviving spouse. The question was based on the terms of the couple’s prenuptial agreement.
The language of the prenuptial agreement was that the wife was entitled to liquid assets in the amount of $3,500,000, “reduced by the amounts of four (4) mortgages … and any accounts that pass to [the wife] by operation of law.” The executor’s position was that the $3,500,000 payment to the wife was to be reduced by the mortgages as well as by entire value of the money in the joint accounts to which she would be entitled. As a result, the wife should not receive any assets from the joint accounts. On the other hand, the wife’s interpretation of the agreement was that since under the law she would be entitled to 50% of the joint accounts, that the $3,500,000 payment should be reduced by the amount of the 4 mortgages and only 50% of the value of the joint accounts. Under the wife’s interpretation, she would receive more, as the base amount of $3,500,000 would be reduced by the mortgages and reduced by only half of the value of the joint accounts.
The differing interpretations of the terms of the prenuptial agreement formed the basis for estate litigation before the Surrogate’s Court. The Surrogate’s Court sided with the wife, granting her motion for summary judgement. The executor appealed.