I do! Sure thing. Your marriage is now consummated…but that’s the easy part. Now comes the hard stuff!
Yes, that’s right. Getting married is relatively easy. You got your ironclad prenup, you had your gorgeous wedding with your dearest friends and family. You had your fun. Now it’s time to pour meaning into those vowels! Welcome to a new reality in your role as a husband or wife or life partner. Sadly, many couples go into marriage with very naive assumptions about what the vowels, and the contract of marriage, mean. In any given state in the United States if we were to stack the legal texts related to marriage up, on one top of the next, it would be floor-to-ceiling in even the grandest of homes.
So while you’re still on cloud nine – maybe you’re even at Cloud 9 – it’s time to get your financial house in order, sync with your partner and tackle these imperative tasks that will keep your marriage on track for a life of success.
DUH… GO ON YOUR HONEYMOON!
OK, this is the last easy one and pretty self-explanatory. Wedding planning is hard. Being surrounded by a bunch of people that want to hug and congratulate you is sometimes even harder. You deserve a break. Take a few days off and gather your bearings. Marriage is a blast and one of life’s true pleasures, but you deserve a break. See you at step two.
GET A MARRIAGE COUNSELOR
Alright, you may consider this one questionable, but we firmly believe every couple can benefit from having an experienced, neutral third party to help them work through issues. Love and relationships are tricky, and you will obviously be highly emotionally invested in yours, so at times it’s difficult to step away from immediate frustrations and feelings and focus on solutions, and on the big picture. A preemptive counseling session a few times each year may help you avoid bigger problems later. Besides, it can’t hurt!
CHANGE YOUR NAME ON ALL YOUR IDENTIFICATION CARDS AND ACCOUNTS
If you have taken a new name, fill out Form SS-5 for a new Social Security card and Form DS-5504 or Form DS-11 for your passport, then visit your local DMV to update your driver’s license. Once you have your new documents, make sure you’ve changed your name on all your banking, credit card and savings accounts. Also, you will need to consider, among others:
- Vehicle Title & Registration
- Professional Licenses
- Frequent Flier Accounts
- Loyalty Programs
- and much more…
TACKLE ESTATE PLANNING
A lot of couples get confused on this one. Prenuptial Agreements are about managing affairs and assets during marriage. Upon death, marriage legally ends. Trusts & Wills are about death. You probably should have both, and we’d consider this one a top priority for right after the wedding. If you need help, reach out to a JUSTLAW rep to schedule a free consultation. Remember, without a will, you leave it up to a court to decide how to handle your estate.
Along with your will, make sure you have enacted a power of attorney, so your spouse can make decisions on your behalf should you become incapacitated.
MAKE A STRATEGY FOR THE BANK ACCOUNTS
Are you going to keep your individual bank accounts, or will you merge them into one?
Sharing a bank account can make paying the bills and building your rainy-day fund simpler. Just make sure you set expectations beforehand about saving, spending and bills. Also, don’t forget to set aside some “fun money” for zero-judgment, zero-guilt splurges for each of you.
For others, sharing an account might feel like losing financial independence. It might also cause stress if one spouse enters the marriage with obligations like student loans, child support, alimony and other debts that get pulled from a shared pool of money. If you want to keep accounts separate, it’s important to be on the same page about who pays for what — from utility bills to groceries.
Of course, you can always develop a hybrid system, where you both maintain separate accounts but contribute a portion to a shared savings account. Ultimately, there’s no wrong answer, you just need to talk it out.
UPDATE YOUR BENEFICIARIES AND EMERGENCY CONTACTS
In the event you have not checked your important records of late, you should investigate beneficiaries of your 401(k) and your old boyfriend could still be listed as an emergency contact. We often see couples where this information is quite dated and irrelevant. In addition, think about whose health insurance plan you’ll use by comparing cost and treatment options. If you’re the one making the switch, make sure the doctors you like are on the new plan.
Update your HR rep at your job with the latest information, and then verify all your retirement accounts, insurance policies and even bank accounts (these typically have something called transfer or pay on death) if you’re not making your spouse a joint account holder.
ADJUST YOUR TAX WITHHOLDING
As a married couple, you can either file taxes separately or jointly with your new spouse. Sometimes this will be covered by your premarital agreement. Any sound tax professional can help you decide the best route, based on your situation. However, whatever your tax status, you should update your withholding to indicate you are married. Contact your accountant if self-employed, or your HR department if you have a job, to change your status.
CONSOLIDATE INSURANCE COVERAGE
Life Insurance: If you don’t have life insurance yet, now is the time to consider it; you have someone else who, at least partially, depends on you financially. Talk with an advisor about how much and what kind is right for your situation. They can also show you how a policy can grow with you in the future (perhaps if kids enter the picture). And think twice about relying solely on your work-based policy, because if you lose your job, you will lose your coverage.
Health Insurance: This is also a terrific time to check your medical insurance coverage and choose the best choice between your plan and your spouse’s plan. Whilst you commonly can’t switch plans outside of the enrollment length, marriage is considered a qualifying event that qualifies you for a “special enrollment period” that generally gives you 60 days after the “lifestyles event” to make modifications.
Talk to your HR department, or if you have individual insurance, follow these directions.
Car Insurance: Check with your insurer to see if you can get better rates by combining policies and potentially enjoying a “marriage” discount.
PLAN YOUR FUTURE TOGETHER
With a lot of the aforementioned paperwork stuff out of the way, it’s time for some fun. How will you and your partner spend the rest of your lives together?
That is a huge question to answer, but it will generate so many exciting discussions with your spouse. Talk about when you both want to retire and the lifestyle you want to maintain. Talk about travel, or children, or second houses, or starting a business or a backyard pool. Take your bucket lists and merge them into a master list of things to do together. Your life as a married couple is a blank slate that you can fill in however you choose. How awesome is that?!
Mapping your destiny as a couple is highly pleasant; however, those discussions can even contemplate existential and financial objectives. Your dialogue with your new partner will help you each to get on the same, and right, page about your monetary priorities collectively. When you’ve built a vision for the destiny that excites you both, it’ll be a lot less difficult – and worthwhile – to stick to a monetary plan that gets you in which you want to head. Of route, if you’ve were given large dreams but the direction forward is a little hazy, a financial planner can help formulate a plan that supports you to “ever after.”
HAVE THE POST- MARRIAGE TAX TALK
The IRS treats unmarried individuals differently to married ones. Now that you and your spouse are legally combined, you need to decide whether you’re going to file together or continue to file separately (joint filing isn’t something mandated by law, though it’s generally recommended). Before deciding, consult your accountant to see what they advise for the two of you. Filing jointly has its benefits – primarily lower taxes, but also potentially spreading investment losses across both incomes – but also downsides, like having to share all the details of your finances and potentially complicated your spouse’s situation with any LLCs or other entities you maintain.