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The Business of Getting Married: Important Legal Tasks and Things to Know

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Feeling uncertain about the legal side of matrimony? Allow us to guide you through a few recommendations for making your marriage official.

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Amidst a flurry of floral arrangements and dress decisions, it can be hard to think about the less exciting parts of getting married. While the aesthetic choices for your big day might comprise a majority of your thoughts, it pays to spend some time thinking about the legal aspects of tying the knot. After all, you’re not just having a wedding – you’re tying your life to your partner’s.

Though these wedding planning tasks might feel like chores, you’ll be glad to have them crossed off your list of things to do. Check out this list of legal stuff you’ll need to sort out before and after getting married.

Before You Tie the Knot

Prior to the big day, there’s a few important legal tasks you’ll need to tackle. Learn more about them below.

Marriage Licenses

Before you take a trip down the aisle, you and your future spouse will need to make a pit stop at the courthouse or the vital records office in the area you’re getting married. Marriage licenses allow you to tie the knot in either a religious or civil ceremony. You’re not considered legally married until you complete the marriage license (it’s typically signed by the officiant and a witness) and send it back to the courthouse. 

Marriage license requirements vary from state to state. With so many different laws and regulations on the books, it’s important to do your research into the requirements for your area. Generally speaking, you’ll want to look into the requirements for the place where you’ll actually get married. If you live in New York, for instance, but are planning for beachside nuptials in Florida, you’ll want to look into the marriage license requirements for Florida. Of course, many people opt to get married locally before jetting off for a destination wedding. In that case, your regional rules apply.

Prenuptial Agreements

There’s a misconception that prenups are expensive, time-consuming, and only reserved for the very rich. In fact, average people commit to prenuptial agreements all the time. The sheer act of negotiating and discussing a prenup gives couples the chance to communicate about topics they haven’t yet broached. Creating a prenup requires you and your future spouse to get on the same page about your boundaries, expectations, and long-term goals. This allows couples to plan how to best care for themselves and each other.

The most straightforward prenup agreements can be handled online. Several services streamline the process for a relatively affordable fee– our favorite is HelloPrenup. Should you have more complex plans, you may want to meet with an attorney to discuss your options. Go this route if you own a business, are expecting a significant family inheritance, or have a wide range of assets. Whether you take a DIY approach or work with an attorney, prenuptial agreements help clarify expectations and ensure you and your betrothed have important conversations about goals, money, business, and inheritance.

Hello Prenup - Prenuptial Agreements on a Budget

After You Say “I Do”

After the vows and rings have been exchanged, the cake has been cut, and youv’e made it official, there are some other newlywed legal to-do’s you’ll want to take care of.

Marriage Certificates

Once you’ve officially gotten married, you’ll receive your marriage certificate. The license is what you get first – it’s essentially an application to be married. After you’ve filled out the license, had your ceremony, signed it, and turn it back into the county, you’ll receive a marriage certificate. It’s proof that you are indeed officially a married couple. 

You may be wondering: do I really even need proof of marriage? The answer is a resounding yes. You’ll need certified copies of your marriage certificate any time you make changes to your marital status for Social Security, insurance, bank accounts, credit cards, and the IRS. Grab two or three copies of the marriage certificate to have on hand, just in case. Should you ever need more, you can contact the local county clerk to order additional copies. 

Name Changes

With a few copies of your marriage certificate on hand, you’ll be armed and ready to file for an official post-wedding name change. (If you want help streamlining this process, check out services like HitchSwitch.) You’ll want to update your Social Security card first. In some states, the DMV will require you to show a Social Security card with your new name to update the rest of your identifying documents. For a step-by-step guide to updating your name on your Social Security card, click here. Generally speaking, you’ll need your ID, marriage certificate, a form, and proof of citizenship to make the update official.

With your new Social Security card in hand, head to the DMV next. Name changes on your driver’s license vary by state, so do a quick online search to learn how to do so in your region. Always make sure you’re on your state’s official DMV website – they typically have a .gov address. For most states, you’ll need your updated Social Security card, photo ID, marriage certificate, and completed name change form.

While you’re changing your name, don’t forget to update your bank or credit union. Call your financial institution and let them know you’ve changed your name. They’ll guide you through the process of changing your name on your accounts. The same goes for credit cards. Most companies make it easy to update your name once you have your new photo ID on hand. You may also want to consider updating the following to reflect your name change:

  • Passport
  • Car title/registration
  • Immigration documents
  • Loans
  • Lease agreements
  • Insurance accounts
  • Deeds
  • Mortgages
  • Utilities
  • Doctor’s offices 
  • Investment accounts
  • Voter registration
  • Alumni association
  • Frequent flyer accounts
  • Kids’ school documents
  • Social media accounts
  • Your email address

While the list might seem overwhelming initially, you can update most of these accounts as you encounter them. Once you’ve informed the Social Security Administration and the DMV of your new name, you’ve done the hardest part. 

Wills and Life Insurance

We know what you’re thinking: wills and life insurance are for the elderly. While this misconception is certainly pervasive, it’s just that: a misconception. Every person, young or old, deserves to have a plan in place for the worst-case scenario. Many people see marriage as the beginning of their new lives together. Thinking about end-of-life plans doesn’t have to shatter any illusions about the many happy years ahead of you. Instead, estate planning decisions help automate your preferences and ensure the smoothest course through the hardest of times.

Creating a will and getting life insurance are easier than you might expect, too.  For the will, begin by creating a list of your assets. This may include your home, car, jewelry, and financial accounts. Bring this list to an estate planning attorney, or use an online service to DIY your estate planning. Decide who you’d like to list as your beneficiaries– the people you’ll pass your assets onto one day. This information provides the baseline for a will.

Many couples assume that life insurance can wait until they have kids. In reality, buying a policy as newlyweds allows you to make financial plans for the rest of your lives. It can also help you save money on your coverage. Life insurance works to protect you and your spouse from the financial strain that often comes with the loss of a partner. Shop around for quotes online and don’t be afraid to work with an agent. They can educate you on the best policy for your needs.

There are a lot of legal benefits that come with getting married, and they aren’t limited to what’s on your wedding registry. In fact, getting married means you’re granted automatic next-of-kin status for hospital visits. This grants you the ability to make medical decisions on behalf of your spouse should they become incapacitated. You’ll have the right to sue for wrongful death, have decision-making powers in respect to whether they should be buried or cremated, and inherit their estate with no tax consequences. 

Financial Perks of Tying the Knot

Financially, there are many perks associated with getting married. You’ll instantly increase your annual household income by tying the knot. This can give you more purchasing power as a couple than you would as two separate individuals. But that’s far from the only financial perk of getting married. 

One of the most significant advantages is eligibility for Social Security spousal and survival benefits. As a married couple, you’ll be eligible to collect your own Social Security benefit or up to 50 percent of your spouse’s benefit, whichever is greater. This is a serious advantage if one of you is a high earner. Widows or widowers can collect up to 100 percent of the other’s benefit. Social Security can also provide important benefits for minor children whose parents are disabled or deceased.

There are tax benefits associated with marriage as well. Married couples may transfer an unlimited amount of property to one another without reporting or paying the gift tax. They can also take advantage of “gift splitting” to double the amount they can give to a third party. Married people can leave an unlimited amount of money to their spouse without paying any estate tax, either. 

See the Forest for the Trees

The legal side of getting married can seem overwhelming at first glance. It’s important not to lose sight of the big picture, though. Sure, there’s legal matters and paperwork to attend to, but you also get to plan the wedding of your dreams and marry the love of your life. Like any administrative chore, breaking these tasks down into small, manageable chunks is a great strategy for getting it all done. After all, a little red tape shouldn’t stand in the way of your happily ever after!


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