A Prenuptial Agreement is a contract entered into between two people who are about to marry. It sets out how assets will be distributed in the event of divorce or death. It can also be used to address other important matters to the couple about to be married such as rights to future spousal support, etc. A prenuptial agreement is normally used in situations where one or both parties: has significant wealth or expects to receive a large inheritance, has a personal business, wish to keep all assets and debts separate, were previously married, and/or have children from a previous relationship.
A prenup agreement (for short) is a written contract created by two people before they are married. A prenup typically lists all of the property each person owns (as well as any debts) and specifies what each person's property rights will be after the marriage.
In some states, a prenuptial agreement is known as an "antenuptial agreement," or in more modern terms, a "premarital agreement." Sometimes the word "contract" is substituted for "agreement," as in "prenuptial contract." An agreement made during marriage, rather than before, is known as a "postnuptial," "postmarital," or "marital" agreement.
Contrary to popular opinion, prenups are not just for the rich. While prenups are often used to protect the assets of a wealthy fiancé, couples of more modest means are increasingly turning to them for their own purposes. Here are some reasons that some people want a prenup:
Pass separate property to children from prior marriages. A marrying couple with children from prior marriages may use a prenup to spell out what will happen to their property when they die, so that they can pass on separate property to their children and still provide for each other, if necessary. Without a prenup, a surviving spouse might have the right to claim a large portion of the other spouse's property, leaving much less for the kids.
Clarify financial rights. Couples with or without children, wealthy or not, may simply want to clarify their financial rights and responsibilities during marriage.
Avoid arguments in case of divorce by specifying in advance how their property will be divided, and whether or not either spouse will receive alimony. (A few states won't allow a spouse to give up the right to alimony, however, and, in most others, a waiver of alimony will be scrutinized heavily and won't be enforced if the spouse who is giving up alimony didn't have a lawyer.)
Prenups can also be used to protect spouses from each other's debts, and they may address a multitude of other issues as well.