Marriage affects your finances in many ways, including your ability to build wealth, plan for retirement, plan your estate, and capitalize on tax and insurance-related benefits. There are, however, two important caveats. First, same-sex marriages are recognized for federal income and estate tax reporting purposes. However, each state determines its own rules for state taxes, inheritance rights, and probate, so the legal standing of same-sex couples in financial planning issues may still vary from state to state. Second, a prenuptial agreement, a legal document, can permit a couple to keep their finances separate, protect each other from debts, and take other actions that could limit the rights of either partner.
If both you and your spouse are employed, two salaries can be a considerable benefit in building long-term wealth. For example, if both of you have access to employer-sponsored retirement plans and each contributes $17,500 a year, as a couple you are contributing $35,000, far in excess of the maximum annual contribution for an individual ($17,500 for 2014). Similarly, a working couple may be able to pay a mortgage more easily than a single person can, which may make it possible for a couple to apply a portion of their combined paychecks for family savings or investments.
Some (but not all) pensions provide benefits to widows or widowers following a pensioner's death. When participating in an employer-sponsored retirement plan, married workers are required to name their spouse as beneficiary unless the spouse waives this right in writing. Qualifying widows or widowers may collect Social Security benefits up to a maximum of 50% of the benefit earned by a deceased spouse.
Married couples may transfer real estate and personal property to a surviving spouse with no federal gift or estate tax consequences until the survivor dies. But surviving spouses do not automatically inherit all assets. Couples who desire to structure their estates in such a way that each spouse is the sole beneficiary of the other need to create wills or other estate planning documents to ensure that their wishes are realized. In the absence of a will, state laws governing disposition of an estate take effect. Also, certain types of trusts, such as QTIP trusts and marital deduction trusts, are restricted to married couples.
When filing federal income taxes, filing jointly may result in lower tax payments when compared with filing separately.
In certain circumstances, creditors may be able to attach marital or community property to satisfy the debts of one spouse. Couples wishing to guard against this practice may do so with a prenuptial agreement.
Marriage may enhance a partner's ability to collect financial support, such as alimony, should the relationship dissolve. Although single people do adopt, many adoption agencies show preference for households that include a marital relationship.
The opportunity to go through life with a loving partner may be the greatest benefit of a successful marriage. That said, there are financial and legal benefits that you may want to explore with your beloved before tying the knot.
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Robert J. Pyle, CFP®, CFA is president of Diversified Asset Management, Inc. (DAMI). DAMI is licensed as an investment adviser with the State of Colorado Division of Securities, and its investment advisory representatives are licensed by the State of Colorado. DAMI will only transact business in other states to the extent DAMI has made the requisite notice filings or obtained the necessary licensing in such state. No follow up or individualized responses to persons in other jurisdictions that involve either rendering or attempting to render personalized investment advice for compensation will be made absent compliance with applicable legal requirements, or an applicable exemption or exclusion. It does not constitute investment or tax advice. To contact Robert, call 303-440-2906 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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