Getting married is one of the happiest days of our lives. However, marriage is a legal union as much as it is a romantic one. Therefore, it is important to consider financial and legal implications before tying the knot.
Giving consideration to these issues before marriage makes things easier down the road should things go awry and divorce is imminent; after all, 40% to 50% of marriages end in divorce.
While that number has gone down compared to a decade ago, it’s still a possibility, so it’s important to be prepared. Additionally, there are many responsibilities to consider as a married couple so it’s wise to plan ahead.
Consulting a lawyer is always a good idea to make sure all your bases are covered, and you can go into the marriage confident and assured.
Here are five legal topics to consider before getting married:
Prenuptial agreement: This is probably one of the most common subjects to consider before getting married. A prenuptial agreement, or postnuptial if signed after the wedding ceremony, defines what happens upon divorce, instead of the state. Common topics covered in these agreements are how assets are divided upon divorce, protection of family inheritances from past relationships, separation of debt that is not jointly shared, spousal support, and characterization of incomes and property if they vary greatly between the spouses. Spouses considering a prenuptial, or premarital, agreement should consult with a family law attorney to ensure it is prepared correctly and complies with the relevant laws in your state.
Money: It’s very important to make sure that you and your soon-to-be spouse have an agreement with regard to money and finances. Many choose to have joint bank accounts because it makes it easier to track finances, while others choose to keep funds separate to maintain their financial independence. Having joint accounts requires close communication to keep each other abreast of spending. It also makes it convenient for shared expenses such as a mortgage or insurance, and it makes access to an account easier should a spouse suddenly pass away. On the other hand, keeping accounts separate makes it less difficult in the event of a divorce and each person has immediate access to funds. However, you’ll have to determine how to split shared expenses if you go this route. No matter how finances are handled, communication is key.
Taxes: Getting married can have a significant effect on your taxes. There are a few decisions couples need to make before the big day. For example, married couples can incur a tax penalty, sometimes paying more than they would if they were single. This happens when the tax brackets, standard deductions and other elements of the tax code don’t double upon marriage. This means that you may actually pay more than you would if you were single. If the salaries of both individuals vary greatly, then combining the incomes may result in a lower tax bracket therefore saving you money. But, when incomes are very similar, it’s possible you may incur a higher tax obligation by filing jointly. There are essentially two options for married couples: married filing jointly and married filing separately. Rarely do couples save money when choosing to file married filing separately. Consulting a CPA or other tax professional is wise to determine which option best fits your financial situation.
Estate planning: While this is often done once married, it’s definitely something to consider or give thought to prior to. Have you and your future spouse considered what should happen with your estate in the future? There are a variety of key documents that can ensure your loved ones are taken care of in the event that something happens to you. It’s critical to plan your estate with your significant other in mind by selecting beneficiaries, determining shared and separate assets, and creating health care directives. The four most important estate planning documents are Last Will and Testament, Living Trust, Advanced Directive and Power of Attorney.
Name change: Of the many changes we experience when we get married, and one of the most visible, is a change of last name. While one does not legally need to change their name, it is something to consider and discuss before the wedding. First, you must have the new name on the marriage certificate. Second, you’ll need to change your identification documents such as your Social Security card, driver’s license or state-issued ID, vehicle title and registration, passport, bank accounts, etc. In order to do this you will need to present the marriage certificate with your new last name. Then, use your new last name on everything you do moving forward.
Marriage is as much a commitment as it is a legal contract, so it’s critical to consider the legal implications before getting married. Rights and responsibilities vary by state, but the above-mentioned items are important for everyone to think about ahead of time. Consulting a family law attorney can put your mind at ease considering you have more than enough to think about before the big day.
Editor’s note: Nicholas J. Brown is an associate with the Cavanagh Law Firm, P.A.