Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Thursday, May 5, 2022


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Bride-to-Be Who Signed Prenup Without Reading It Can’t Avoid Consequence—C.A.

Opinion Discounts Widow’s Assertion That in Signing, She Reasonably Assumed That Change to Draft of Agreement, to Which Groom Had Assented, Had Been Made  


By a MetNews Staff Writer


A woman who signed a prenuptial agreement the day before her wedding without reading it, assuming it incorporated a change she had insisted upon and which she heard her then-fiancé direct his attorney to make, is not entitled to relief from the objected-to provision which she learned, upon her husband’s death three years after their wedding, had been unaltered, the First District Court of Appeal has declared.

The widow, Brandy L. Eskra, made a unilateral mistake of fact for which, under the circumstances, there is no relief, Justice Mark B. Simons of Div. Five said in Tuesday’s opinion, which denies her an interest in the marital abode.

“Because Brandy failed to read the Agreement and to meet with her attorney to discuss it before signing it, she bore the risk of her mistake and is not entitled to rescission,” Simons wrote.

The opinion affirms a judgment of Humboldt Superior Court Judge Timothy Canning who held that the 2015 prenuptial agreement must be enforced, as written. It spells out that neither party would have a claim upon the separate property of the other and, in particular, that they would reside in the home of husband-to-be Scott Eskra but that Brandy Eskra would have no claim for contributions to the house.

This would apply, the agreement recites, “in the event of the parties’ separation or divorce, or upon the death of either party.”

According to testimony, the future bride met with Eureka attorney Tracy Rain on April 24, 2015, to go over a draft of the agreement prepared by Scott Ezra’s attorney, Laurence Ross of Eureka; she was surprised to learn she would not gain entitlement to the house in the event her husband predeceased her, thinking that the provision would only apply in the event of a divorce; she confronted her fiancé who assured her that such was what he intended.

He phoned Ross in her presence and instructed:

“This isn’t about death. It’s about divorce only. Take it out.”

The parties signed the agreement on May 1, 2015, at Ross’s office, with Rain not present. Neither party looked over what they signed.

Rain later testified that she had expected her client to drop by her office at some time on May 1, as she had invited, to go over the final draft, though no specific time for a meeting had been set. Brandy Eskra was to testify that she saw no need for a meeting, thinking the matter had been resolved by virtue of the instruction she heard given to Ross and “that’s what I thought had been done.”

After the death of sportsman Scott Eskra in 2018, his parents, Steve Eskra and Catherine Grace, petitioned to be appointed as co-administrators of the estate, arguing that the widow’s rival petition should be denied because, under the prenuptial agreement, she had no interest in the estate. Canning granted the parents’ petition.

The upshot was that, giving force to the prenuptial agreement, the house and other assets would go to Scott Ezra’s minor daughter by a previous marriage, under intestate succession. Absent recognition of the agreement, the daughter would have only a share.


The family photo above depicts Brandy Eskra and her late husband Scott Eskra. The First District Court of Appeal on Tuesday affirmed a decision holding the widow to the terms of a prenuptial agreement she had signed without reading it. It rejected her contention that she reasonably assumed it contained a particular change to a draft of the agreement which her then-fiancé had communicated to her he assented, and in her presence, ordered his lawyer to make, with the court saying that she had a legal duty to make sure that the change had been made.


Earlier Proceeding

The Court of Appeal on July 27, 2020 reversed, saying:

“We conclude that Brandy was entitled to introduce extrinsic evidence in support of her argument that she and her late husband mistakenly believed the agreement would apply only in the event of divorce or dissolution of the marriage, rather than upon death.”

On remand, Canning took testimony and concluded that the husband “knew that the agreement did apply in the event of divorce or death” and that “there was insufficient evidence that Scott encouraged or fostered Brandy’s mistaken belief” to the contrary. Grounds did not exist for a rescission, he concluded.

Simons’s Opinion

In affirming, Simons pointed out that the grounds for rescission are set forth in Civil Code §1689. One ground, he noted, is “mistake,” and the sort of mistake of fact that qualifies is specified in §1577, which says that it must be a mistake “not caused by the neglect of a legal duty on the part of the person making the mistake.”

Simons wrote:

“The critical question in the present case is whether Brandy’s failure to read the Agreement and meet with Ms. Rain regarding the changes to the Agreement constituted neglect of a legal duty within the meaning of section 1577.”

He declared that under decisional law, “the failure to read a contract generally constitutes neglect of a legal duty under section 1577.”

The jurist added:

“Brandy’s failures are made more profound by her awareness that the initial draft contained provisions that surprised and deeply disturbed her. That should have led her to exercise additional caution to ensure the final version was in accordance with her intent. Brandy bore the risk of her mistake….”

Brandy Eskra had initially contended that she and her then-fiancé had been in accord that the separate-property provision would not apply in the event the marriage ended by virtue of death and that the language in the final version, not reflecting that intent, was a drafting error. However, in light of testimony on remand, which Canning credited, that Scott Eskra had actually intended that the house go to his daughter, she argued that given their intimate relationship, her fiancé had a heightened disclosure obligation to her which he violated, negating any breach of a legal duty on her part.

Simons saw no merit in the contention, saying:

“Even considering the nature of her relationship with Scott, Brandy bore the risk of her mistake because she not only failed to read the Agreement, but she also failed to attend the meeting with Ms. Rain that was scheduled for the purpose of reviewing the revised Agreement before Brandy signed it.”

The case is Eskra v. Grace, 2022 S.O.S. 1898.


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