It was a month before they were married.  Toni and Charles signed a “Premarital Agreement.” They agreed that the property of each would remain separate after their marriage.  They explicitly waived any right to each other’s property.

Two years after they were married, wife died. Her estate and her father now seek to enforce the Premarital Agreement against husband’s spousal rights in wife’s employee stock plan and savings plan.  This had been conferred on husband by § 205(a) of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974.

The parties’ Premarital Agreement did not comport with ERISA’s formal requirements for waiver of husband’s spousal rights.   So, the trial court and the appellate court both concluded that the agreement cannot be enforced to deny husband’s spousal rights in wife’s benefit plans.

In reaching this judgment, the courts reasoned that the Bell South ESOP and SSP were governed by ERISA. Under ERISA, the Premarital Agreement did not constitute “an effective waiver of benefits under 29 U.S.C. § 1055 and the plans.” The court concluded that the Estate’s request to establish a constructive trust over the property and to set aside husband’s designation of himself as a beneficiary were preempted by ERISA.

HAGWOOD v. NEWTON, 282 F3d 285