Zelman v. Zelman (Palm Beach County)
The lengthy and complex case of Zelman vs. Zelman has finally come to an end in Palm Beach County. Attorneys representing Martin Zelman, a Long Island business man who slipped into dementia a few years ago, were able to facilitate a settlement between his children from his first marriage and his current wife, Lois Zelman.
Mrs. Zelman will receive close to $10 million to move on with her life and leave behind her husband of 15 years. The settlement between them reads like a divorce agreement and specifies what each Mr. Zelman and Mrs. Zelman will receive in the splitting of marital assets.
Prior to the settlement, Martin filed for divorce, but the judge ruled he was not competent enough to understand what he was seeking. Under the couple’s prenuptial agreement, if they divorce, Mrs. Zelman would receive nothing from Martin’s estimated $50 million fortune but in the event of Martin’s death, Lois would receive around $10 million. Their prenup also stipulated that if a guardian filed for divorce then Lois would be entitled to about $10 million.
Lois claims she never wanted a divorce from her husband. In 2014, she was ordered to move out of the couple’s shared Palm Beach condominium after Martin’s adult children claimed she was abusing him. Zelman’s children, Robert and Lisa, have served as his legal guardians throughout the process.
The divorce decision sent the Zelman case to probate court in order for a review of Martin’s mental state and reopened the question of guardianship, possibly spurring the settlement between both sides. Zelman vs. Zelman exemplifies just how important it is for older couples to make sure that any prenuptial agreements and other legal documents they have drafted fully protect them and their finances.
Elderly couples must not only think about what will happen in case of death, but also what will happen if one or both of them become incapacitated. The Zelmans had a unique prenup, but it did not take into consideration what would happen if either spouse suffered from dementia, ultimately leading to a drawn-out legal battle.
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