Once the wedding is over and you’re back from your honeymoon, reality settles in; your life is going to be different. Here are the crucial things you must take care of immediately to get your new marriage in order from a financial perspective, and a few extras if you’re not satisfied with the minimum.
The Must Haves
No one knows what the future will bring, but there are ways to be better prepared for whatever transpires:
- Durable power of attorney. Having the authority to act on behalf of your spouse should an unfortunate event occur is not automatic with marriage.
- Living will. Make sure you and your spouse understand each other’s wishes in certain health-related situations.
- Health care surrogate. In case you or your spouse are unable to make decisions that aren’t covered in the living will, this facilitates the decision-making process.
- Update beneficiaries. This includes investments and life insurance as well as 401k plans and life insurance through work.
- Emergency fund. Set up automatic transfers into this account every Friday or every other Friday. Smaller and more frequent is better than larger and less frequent. Aim for 3-6 months of living expenses.
Here are a few things you should consider if your situation makes them relevant:
- Will and revocable living trust. These are applicable if the two of you have investments or properties; it avoids lengthy and expensive probate and instead gets the assets directly to beneficiaries.
- Account titling. This is applicable especially if credit is an issue. Tenants by the Entirety accounts shield the assets of one spouse from the creditors of the other. (Unfortunately, they’re only available in about half the states.)
- Guardian for minors. This is usually only an issue if one of you has a child from a prior marriage whose other parent is not in the child’s life. Trustees can also manage the finances of the child until he or she comes of age.
Combining all accounts isn’t always wise, especially if one of you has lots of debt and the other has lots of assets. Professional advice is often warranted to ensure assets are protected from creditors.
For High Performers
Set up a separate savings account for any big purchase you’re working toward and auto-save into it frequently, just like your emergency fund.
The Bottom Line
The best thing you can do as your marriage begins is to talk to a qualified financial planner who has experience working with your demographic. This professional can help you define your goals and devise strategies to get there.
Having someone help with your investments is great, but if you’re just starting out, the biggest value a financial planner adds is making sure you don’t procrastinate and miss anything because your interest in your finances is often cyclical. You want someone who will grow with you, so make sure the planner a good fit.
One of the most important things to talk about with a prospective financial planner is communication. For example, if you use your smartphone for everything and hate mounds of paper, make sure your planner already works with clients just like you and tailors his or her communication to fit your needs.
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