The ongoing case of Kouri and Eric Richins is both fascinating and chilling. It is also fraught with twists and turns centered around different aspects of Eric’s estate planning including powers of attorney, life insurance policies, and his living trust. Today, we will discuss how the prenuptial agreement Eric’s mom made Kouri sign on the day she married Eric in June of 2013 is throwing a wrench in the execution of all his subsequent estate planning.
Who is Kouri Richins?
If you haven’t already been introduced to the Kouri Richins case, we will sum up. About a year after the sudden death of her husband, Kouri Richins of Kamas, Utah published a children’s book, written by herself and her three children. The book is designed to help children deal with loss and grief. On May 8, 2023, shortly after the publication, Kouri Richins was arrested and charged with the murder of her husband. The allegations point to financial gain as the motive.
Prior to the marriage, Kouri’s husband Eric held 50% business interest in C&E Stone Masonry. The prenuptial agreement specifically stipulated that in the event of a divorce, Eric’s share in the business would still remain solely in his possession. Eric even took steps in his estate plan to ensure that, in the event of his death, that 50% share would not go to his wife. Shortly after his death, Kouri brought a civil action claiming that she is entitled to the entire 50% business interest (approximately 2 million dollars) because of one line in the prenuptial agreement, which states that in the event of his death, the business share would pass to Kouri.
Why Have A Prenup?
(add text) Eric Richins had been married before his 2013 marriage to Kouri. His first wife had cheated on him, and the divorce was not amicable. Needless to say, it is usually a good idea to have a prenuptial agreement in the event that you have children from a previous relationship and are entering a second marriage, or if you are bringing a substantial amount of assets into your marriage whether it’s your first, second, etc.
The Problem With The Richins Prenup
Typically a family law or divorce attorney would draft up your prenuptial agreement, but in this unique case, it appears it was Eric’s mother who brought the prenup to the wedding. This unusual circumstance is possibly why a very important sentence was included in the agreement that we, as estate planning attorneys, would never have included in a prenup.
Based upon the language of the document, it appears the only concern was that of divorce. In the section of the prenup defining the separate property of the husband, it clearly states that while commingled marital funds may be spent on C&E Stone Masonry, that will not change the ownership of the business interest, and it will remain the husband’s separate property except if the husband should die prior to the wife while the two are lawfully married. Then, the ownership should transfer to the wife.
Prenups and Estate Planning
If you are planning to marry and are considering a prenuptial agreement, we would recommend that you contact a qualified attorney to draw up those documents for you. Some things you should consider as you contemplate your prenup are not just what happens if you get divorced, but also if you were to pass away.
In the event that you are separated or have even filed for divorce, and then die in an accident, would you still want your surviving spouse to inherit your assets? The Richins prenup just says they have to still be legally married for her to inherit, so theoretically, they could have been one signature away from a divorce at his death and she would still have a claim to his business interest. Be careful about the wording of your prenuptial agreement. In the legal arena, words on a page really matter, and our legal system has to hold us to the agreements that we have made.
Also, don’t just assume that if you leave everything to a spouse from a second marriage, that person will turn around and take care of your kids from a previous relationship. Take time to make a quality estate plan to care for your children, and make sure that your prenup would never undermine your estate planning. Omit language from your prenuptial agreement that should really be in your planning documents instead.
To learn more about the Richins case, wills, prenups, and the slayer statute, listen to our full podcast here.