Your wedding is near and it is an exciting and nerve-racking time leading up to the big day. Before you marry your future partner, it’s important to not only understand your emotional commitment, but also the legal and financial repercussions of your union.
So how exactly does marriage change your legal and financial status?
Prior to walking down the aisle, you and your fiancé (or fiancée) must apply for a marriage license (also known as a marriage permit) allowing you to legally marry. This can be done by visiting your local town office or registry in the city or county that you plan to exchange vows in.
In order to get your marriage license, there are various requirements, including:
- Proof of Divorce or Widowhood: This does not apply to those who are entering into their first marriage. For those who have been divorced or are widowed, you must provide valid proof of your divorce (such as a divorce decree), or a death certificate for your deceased spouse.
- Age: In most states, the legal age to marry is 18. Some exceptions include Nebraska (19) and Mississippi (21). If you are under the legal age in your state, you must acquire written parental consent to have a legally binding union.
- Blood tests: Though increasingly uncommon, some states still require engaged couples to undergo blood work to test for disease prior to union.
After you sign the marriage certificate at your wedding ceremony, your relationship status changes. You will now fill in “married” on legal and government forms.
If you are getting married, you may choose to take your spouse’s last name, retain your own name, or devise another creative alternative. When you sign your marriage certificate, it does not result in an automatic name change. You have to bring your marriage certificate to all official institutions that keep records of your name to update information on your Social Security Card, Driver’s License, bank accounts, etc.
Lastly, notify others of your new surname, including your employer, post office, school, landlord, doctor, lawyer, and accountant.
There are no legal consequences of retaining your given surname.
When you marry someone, you do not have to testify against them in court.
Marriage affects both you and your spouse’s health care. As “next of kin”, your spouse is responsible for making all health care decisions for you should you no longer be able to make them for yourself. Discuss your medical treatment wishes with your significant other and complete a Living Will to formally express your treatment preferences.
Other health care changes:
- Your spouse is able to visit you in the intensive care unity of the hospital and vice versa
- You may be eligible to take leave from work to care for your spouse if he or she becomes sick or injured
- When listed as a beneficiary or dependent, you may receive coverage from your spouse’s health insurance plan
Children from a Previous Marriage
If you or your spouse have children from a previous marriage, it shouldn’t legally impact your current courtship. New spouses do not have the legal obligation to support their step children. This is the responsibility of the biological parents themselves.
However, if you or your spouse chose to adopt previous dependents, given that his/her ex-partner has relinquished all parental rights, then you would be legally considered a guardian and therefore responsible for their care.
If you are engaged to be married, there may be a chance you have already started combining finances or bank accounts with your significant other. In any case, you should consider having a money talk with your partner to discuss your financial future.
A Prenuptial Agreement is used to protect your assets in the event your marriage does not work out or you/your spouse passes away.
By specifying shared and separate property, you can both determine:
- How possessions and debt will be divided upon separation
- If you or your future spouse must provide post-separation alimony
- What each of you are entitled to in the other’s estate, along with your rights following death
By default, spouses are entitled to a share of the other’s estate. To modify this entitlement, you must specify separate assets before your wedding day in order to prevent these possessions from being considered marital property upon death or divorce.
Once married, you and your spouse will collect shared assets known as joint or marital property.
This can include, but is not limited to:
- Bank accounts
- Property or possessions, such as your home, vehicles, jewelry, furniture and more
In the event of one spouse’s death, the marital property will be allocated to the surviving spouse. With divorce, joint property will be divided 50/50 unless otherwise stated.
One of the largest investments you will make as a married couple is your home. States governed under common law define property acquired prior to marriage as separate. For instance, if a real estate title is listed in one spouse’s name, it is theirs. The real estate property can be left to their loved one if they choose to state this in their will.
If the property is purchased together, each spouse has equal interest in the property title under joint tenancy. With this arrangement, when one spouse dies, the remaining spouse may acquire their late husband/wife’s remaining interest in the property through rights of survivorship.
States governed by community law (Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington & Wisconsin) view money, property and debt accumulated during marriage as communal assets. Real estate is shared and when one spouse dies, their share, along with debts, is passed to the living spouse.
To prevent any disputes, it’s important to review your Last Will and Testament when you get married to ensure it reflects your current wishes. Without one, most of your assets will go directly to your spouse. If you wish to allocate a certain portion to your significant other, do so explicitly in your will, while also clearly specifying the other assets and/or gifts you want to leave to family and friends.
After marriage, you have the option to file joint tax returns or file separately. Whichever way you choose to file, the name on your Social Security Card must match the one on your tax return. If you have not reported your new name to the IRS, you must do so before filing.
You can determine your status as of December 31 of the tax year. For instance, if your wedding is in the following January, you can still qualify for single tax filing. However, filing a joint return has several benefits, including deductions, and borrowing personal tax credits to lower the tax bracket of a partner.
Alternatively, filing individually may also lower your tax bill. Be sure to consult with an accountant when determining your tax filing status as: marriage filing jointly or marriage filing separately.
There is also another option; if you and your future spouse are in business together, you may choose to form a family partnership and file taxes as a family business in which profits are distributed among each other.
Other tax benefits as a married couple:
- You may have the ability to claim dependents, such as children, dependent relatives or even a spouse you’ve been supporting. If you claim your child as dependent, you may be eligible for a child tax credit.
- Gift Taxes: Generally if one individual gives a money gift to another person, the receiver has to pay taxes on this money. However, married couples who exchange money gifts in their family are exempt from this tax law.
- Estate Taxes: As long as you are an American citizen, your spouse can leave you with any amount of their estate – tax free. The same applies to you leaving behind a portion of your estate to them.
Share Plans and Benefits
There are several advantages to sharing your life with someone. Among them is being listed as a beneficiary or dependent on various health, retirement, life and financial plans.
For instance, you may be entitled to your spouse’s healthcare insurance, Social Security, disability benefits, as well as their employee benefits, retirement plan/pensions, life insurance policies, and more. If your spouse dies, you may still be able to collect their Social Security, pension, and other benefits if you were listed as a beneficiary.
Understanding Marital Commitment
In practice, marriage is a shared legal union in which you make sanctioned commitments to another person.
For that reason, it’s important to understand the legal and financial ramifications of marriage, including planning your financial future together and knowing your legal rights regarding shared property should you happen to separate or experience the loss of your spouse.