Tuesday, May 03, 2022

Estate of Eskra (Cal. Ct. App. - May 3, 2022)

 I can summarize today's opinion in a single sentence. Okay, maybe two sentences:

"You really, really ought to read that prenuptial agreement before you sign it. Really."

Here, Scott and Brandy are getting married, and Scott already has a nine-year old kid. Scott says he wants  prenup, and the prenup says that Brandy doesn't get anything from Scott. Period. Not if they die, not if they divorce, never.

Brandy says she's super bummed at this, and tells Scott: "Hey, I'm cool with getting nothing if we divorce, but if you die, come on, dude, give me something, right?"

And here's what's interesting -- it's fairly obvious (to me, anyway) that that's indeed what happened. Brandy's not making it up. She apparently sent her lawyer an email that said basically the same thing, Brandy's lawyer sent the other side an email saying this as well, and so what Brandy wanted is fairly obvious.

The rub is this: What Scott wanted isn't undisputed at all. Brandy says she had a conversation with Scott and Scott was down for changing the agreement so that it applied only if they got divorced, not if he died. But Scott's lawyer says, nah, Scott told him to stick with the existing plan.

What we do know is this: Scott's lawyer tinkered with the draft, and took out some provisions, but the stuff he took out did not actually change the agreement. If someone uneducated just looked at the thing and noticed that there were deletions, yeah, you might have thought that they were taking out the whole "death" stuff. But no lawyer would read it that way. Because it still fairly clearly said that Brandy got nothing even if Scott dies.

But (1) Brandy doesn't even read the revised contract before she signs it, and (2) Brandy doesn't have her lawyer read the revised contract either. She just signs it. Confident that, yeah, Scott said he'd take all the death stuff out (according to her, anyway), so she assumed it was gone.

Even though it wasn't.

The trial court believes Scott's lawyer when the lawyer testified that Scott wanted to keep the prenup the way it was. So that just leaves Brandy's unilateral mistake, which doesn't cut it. Brandy doesn't get anything, and the nine-year old kid -- now a lot older -- gets it all.

So holds the trial court as well as the Court of Appeal.

I kinda feel for Brandy here. It does seem like maybe Scott (and his lawyer) are playing a little bit of a game with "revising" the contract without really revising it.

But, at the same time, she's got a lawyer. You generally want to actually use those people. Not just have 'em around doing nothing. So if you choose not to read the contract before you sign it -- or even to have your lawyer read it -- that's kinda on you, no?

Hence today's opinion. Which says the same thing with a whole lotta legalese.