- Associated Press - Friday, May 23, 2014

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - The Iowa Supreme Court ruled Friday that a 92-year-old Belle Plaine woman cannot lay claim to her husband’s assets after his September 2012 death because they had signed a postnuptial agreement in Florida two decades earlier waiving rights to each other’s property.

The court ruled that Velma Hussemann must abide by the 1991 agreement even though Iowa does not recognize such property agreements signed by couples after they’re married. Since their agreement was completed in Florida, the court said, that state’s laws apply.

The case presented Iowa’s high court with its first opportunity to decide whether Iowa should enforce postnuptial agreements signed in states that allow them.

The unanimous ruling written by Justice Edward Mansfield pointed out that the Iowa Supreme Court over a century ago found that a contract between a husband and wife limiting her interest in his estate “is of no validity whatever.”

Herbert and Velma Hussemann were married in February 1991 in Florida. Both had previous marriages and children from their prior relationships.

They entered into a postnuptial agreement in Citrus County, Florida, shortly after they were married. Under the agreement, each was to retain his or her own property. And any property they acquired after being married would belong to the person whose name was on the title.

Herbert had been represented by a lawyer in negotiating the agreement, but Velma had not, according to the agreement.

Court documents indicated that his assets at the time of the agreement primarily included bonds, certificates of deposit and a mutual fund. Her assets included income from a home loan and life insurance.

On the day the agreement was signed Herbert also created a trust in which he placed his assets. It made no provision for Velma and left all assets to his sons, Herbie and Robert.

The couple moved from Florida to Belle Plaine in 2005 and lived there until Herbert died Sept. 17, 2012, at age 91.

Velma and her daughter, Marcella Ritter, filed a petition to claim her spousal share of Herbert’s trust. They argued the postnuptial agreement cannot be enforced in Iowa because that would violate the state’s established public policy against them.

Herbert’s sons challenged the petition and asked the Iowa courts to uphold the agreement. A district court judge upheld the agreement, and Velma Hussemann appealed.

The Iowa Supreme Court concluded the couple entered into the agreement that was legal under Florida law when all their ties were to that state.

“In our mobile society, we doubt that parties who enter into a valid contract in their home state and live under that contract for 14 years would expect that contract to be nullified simply because they move to another state,” the court wrote.

Velma Hussemann continues to live in Belle Plaine, her attorney, Daniel L. Seufferlein said.

“Courts are often put in a difficult position to weigh competing interests under the law,” Seufferlein said in a statement. “While we’re disappointed in the outcome, I have the highest respect for the job the court performs, and appreciated the fair hearing and thoughtful analysis of the issues involved.”

Amy Van Wechel, an attorney representing Herbert Hussemann’s sons, said “the justices made the appropriate ruling based on the law they had to follow.”

She said many states are moving toward allowing postnuptial agreements and Iowa should consider it.

“There are safeguards you can put into place to make sure that parties understand what type of agreement they’re getting into,” she said.

About 30 states allow postnuptial agreements.

A measure supported by the Iowa State Bar Association that would have allowed postnuptial agreements in some circumstances passed the Iowa Senate 48-0 last year but it wasn’t considered in the House.

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Follow David Pitt on Twitter at https://twitter.com/davepitt .


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