If wedding bells will be ringing in your near future, you undoubtedly expect your life to change. You're prepared to take on the new personal, familial, and household responsibilities that come with marriage. But what about your new legal responsibilities? Throughout the chaos of wedding planning and the haze of newlywed bliss, it can be easy to overlook the less glamorous -- but very real -- financial and legal implications of married life. However, by taking a few important steps now, you could save a great deal of time, trouble, and money later. Read on to learn more about the critical steps you can take to better plan for your family's future in the great Sunshine State.
Change Your Beneficiaries
One of the first things a newly married couple should do is to update and make appropriate changes to any existing legal documents. Members of your family are probably named as beneficiaries or joint owners on many of these documents. However, now you may wish to make your spouse the new beneficiary or joint owner.
You can make these changes by taking insurance policies to your insurance company or agency, and government bonds or securities to your bank or stockbroker. When it comes to estate planning, you may want to consult an attorney about possible changes.
Additionally, withholdings for federal income taxes should be adjusted to reflect your new married status. Inform your employers of your new status so that you may receive any employment benefits afforded to married persons. Many employers offer "fringe benefits" of special interest to married employees.
Update Information on Important Documents
If you changed your name and/or address after getting married, remember to notify the following agencies or officials:
- Florida Department of Highway Safety & Motor Vehicles
Division of Drivers License
Tallahassee, Florida 32304
- Your nearest Social Security office.
- Your voter's registration office.
- Military reserve commanding officer.
Time to Make a Will
It may be a good idea to have an estate planning attorney draft a will as soon as possible. There are two important reasons to do this:
First, if you die without a will, a probate court will automatically distribute your property according to Florida law - even if the result would go against your wishes. For example, the court could distribute one portion of your estate to your spouse, while the rest would go to your children. Your spouse could also be appointed guardian of the estate of minor children. This may or may not be the arrangement you desire. Regardless, if you have a will, you -- not the courts -- can decide how your property should be distributed.
Second, if you and your spouse should die at the same time, a guardian must be appointed for any minor children. Having a will allows you to designate your children's guardian. If you do not have a will, the court will select a guardian -- and that selection could be someone you would not have chosen.
In your new family roles, both you and your spouse will want to provide as much security, planning, and protection as possible for your children. You may also want to provide for other contingencies should one of you precede the other in death. The drafting of a will is an important step in ensuring your wishes are carried out in the event the unforeseen occurs.
Watch Your Credit
Starting a new life as a married couple can be expensive. Perhaps you have bought or rented a new home. On top of that, maybe you stretched for some new furniture and appliances. If you decide to buy these items "on time," be careful not to overextend yourself. Know what you are signing before you sign, and make sure you can afford the payments. A "dollar down and a dollar a week" may be more than your living expenses and other financial obligations will allow.
Remember that a good credit rating is a valuable asset. It can help you obtain employment, borrow money in an emergency, and establish credit accounts at stores. A poor credit rating, on the other hand, may narrow your chances of obtaining financing for major purchases. It may also jeopardize your job or your ability to find employment.
Keep Financial Records
Finally, keep records of all your financial affairs. This is especially important should the United States Internal Revenue Service (I.R.S.) wish to review your income tax returns. Your receipts, canceled checks, and credit charge slips are legal proof of expenditures. If you do not have a checking account and pay in cash, ask for receipts on all items that are tax deductible for income tax purposes.
Keep a file of all your records safely stored in your home. If possible, keep valuable documents, such as insurance policies, marriage certificates, birth certificates, bond and stock certificates, and important contracts in a safe deposit box at your bank.
If you have more questions, the Florida Bar provides a handbook with general information about marriage. Since the law is always changing, some of the material may be out of date. To ensure you are getting correct information that is relevant to you and your family, you may want to consider talking to an experienced family law attorney.