‘Valid and Enforceable’: Prenup upheld the Dead Man’s Law testimony

A district court upheld the validity of a prenuptial agreement after ruling the document could confirm testimony by an opposing party under Virginia’s Dead Man’s Statute.

After her husband died of COVID-19 during the will, the plaintiff challenged the validity of a prenuptial agreement that waived her claim to his $6 million estate.

When the deceased’s son testified that his father stated his intention to marry the plaintiff for immigration purposes and entered into a premarital contract to protect his assets, the plaintiff argued that Virginia’s Dead Man’s Statute prohibits doing so without corroboration.

Fairfax Circuit Court Chief Justice Penney S. Azcarate disagreed, finding corroboration of the deceased’s testimony in the prenuptial contract itself and allowing the son’s testimony.

The report is Munhuu v. Joiners (VLW 023-8-014).

The Marriage Contract

Oyunchimeg Munhuu and Bernard Joiner met in 2015 at a dance class. They started dating and decided to get married in 2019. Bernard sponsored Munhuu’s application for a green card, which Munhuu admitted in court had something to do with her decision to get married.

Talks about a prenuptial contract led her to meet Bernard’s attorney, Karen Leiser, in August 2019.

Munhuu claimed she thinks all American couples must have a premarital contract in order to be married and believed it was a form of license. However, Leisner insisted that she tell Munhuu the nature of the agreement and that she was only representing Bernard.

Later that month, Bernard Munhuu copied Leisner in an email asking for a copy of the draft contract. After Bernard Leisner said that Munhuu did not favor the disclosure of assets in the agreement, the attorney finalized the draft and sent a copy to both parties.

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The next day, Bernard confirmed the agreement was looking good and asked when he and Munhuu could come to sign it.

In early September 2019, Munhuu and Bernard signed the marriage contract in Leisner’s office. Leisner wasn’t there, so an employee brought the agreement for them to sign.

The agreement stipulated that each party had fully disclosed its financial terms and waived its rights to the equitable distribution and estate property of the other.

Among other things, the agreement stated that both parties fully disclosed their financial situation and waived each party’s right to fair distribution. It also states that upon the death of either person, “the surviving spouse shall have no claim or right to receive any property of the deceased” unless otherwise provided in the deceased’s will.

Munhuu and Bernard were married at the courthouse six days later. But in January 2021, Bernard succumbed to COVID-19, leaving behind a fortune worth more than $6 million.

Bernard’s son Andrew qualified as executor of his father’s estate. He listed himself and Munhuu as heirs but said she was disqualified due to the premarital contract.

After transferring most of the estate’s assets to himself, Andrew agreed to be removed as administrator pending the completion of Munhuu’s declaratory judgment claim to invalidate the prenuptial contract.

At a January 2023 trial, Bernard’s sister Anne Westley testified that her brother said he wanted to marry Munhuu for immigration reasons and that he had discussed with Munhuu his desire for a premarital arrangement to keep their assets separate. Andrew’s testimony matched Westley’s.

Munhuu disagreed, arguing that her uncorroborated statements about Bernard’s intentions were inadmissible under Virginia’s Dead Man’s Statute.

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Contested Statements

According to Virginia’s Dead Man’s Statute, if testimony against an individual who is not testimony is offered by an opposing or interested party and constitutes a material element that would be fatal to the case, it must be corroborated, Azcarate explained.

While an opposing party is a registered party making or defending a claim, the judge said an interested person has a financial interest in the outcome of the lawsuit, but does not have to be a party to the lawsuit.

Here Azcarate established that Westley was not an opposing or interested party and overruled Munhuu’s objection to her testimony.

“While Ms. Westley may ultimately benefit from seizing more money for the defendant than for the plaintiff, it does not make her testimony ‘interesting’ under dead man’s law and does not require corroboration,” the judge said.

On the other hand, Andrew’s testimony had to be corroborated because he was a party against whom a jury trial was pending. Andrew broke new ground by offering the prenuptial contract as confirmation of what his father had said.

“There is no direct case law as to whether a prenuptial contract can be considered a confirmation under dead man’s law, which makes this question a head start,” Azcarate noted.

The judge analyzed the agreement himself to determine whether it confirmed and strengthened Andrew’s testimony.

“MS. Leiser, Mr. Joiner’s attorney, prepared the agreement in which he waived the parties’ right to equitable distribution upon dissolution and gave each party claims to the separate estate of the others,” Azcarate wrote. “The agreement further stated that neither party was required to provide for the other in their will or had any right to receive any property of the deceased upon their death.”

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The judge said these provisions directly supported Andrew’s testimony of what his father had told him about his inheritance.

“Since the prenuptial contract tends to confirm and reinforce the defendant’s testimony, it is sufficient to support the defendant’s testimony that Mr. Joiner hired an attorney to ensure the defendant’s legacy remained separate,” Azcarate said.

Valid Agreement

After overruling Munhuu’s objections to Westley and Andrew’s statements, the judge further ruled whether the prenuptial contract was enforceable.

Azcarate was unconvinced by Munhuu’s claims that she did not voluntarily sign or understand the prenuptial contract and that she was ignorant of her fiancé’s net worth.

While acknowledging a gross disparity in assets, the judge said the evidence found no suppressive influences.

“The evidence sufficiently shows that no language barrier prevented the plaintiff from understanding the agreement or asking questions,” Azcarate wrote. “No other oppressive influences identified by plaintiff would affect the immorality of the prenuptial contract.”

Munhuu also did not show undue influence on Bernard’s part, the judge said, noting Munhuu’s failure to seek independent counsel before signing the agreement.

“There is nothing to indicate that Mr. Joiner acted in bad faith, intentionally misled the plaintiff, or omitted any material provision of the prenuptial agreement,” the judge wrote. “Indeed, correspondence between Mr. Joiner and Ms. Leiser indicates that Mr. Joiner openly discussed the agreement with the plaintiff, including whether to include their asset disclosures. The plaintiff could have obtained independent counsel but declined and instead signed the pre-nuptial agreement.”

As such, Azcarate found the prenuptial contract valid and enforceable.