I now pronounce you … joint account holders?
That certainly doesn’t have the same ring as “husband and wife,” but it’s the new reality in your role as a husband or wife. You made a commitment to each other when you exchanged vows; since that carries over to your financial life, there are a few documents you’ll need to sign beyond the marriage certificate.
So, before the honeymoon bliss wears off, gather your financial papers, sign into those accounts, sit down with your partner and dig into these eight financial to-dos for newly married couples.
1. DECIDE HOW TO HANDLE YOUR BANK ACCOUNT(S)
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.
2. UPDATE YOUR BENEFICIARIES (AND EMERGENCY CONTACTS)
If you haven’t looked at your accounts lately, your parents may still be your beneficiary for your 401(k) and your old roomie might still be your emergency contact. There’s a good chance you filled out that information once, long ago when you first started your job or opened the accounts, so this is an easy one to overlook.
Update your HR rep at work with current information, and then double-check 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 accountholder.
3. ADJUST YOUR TAX WITHHOLDING
Once you’re married, you can either file taxes jointly or separately; a 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 HR department to change your W-4.
4. 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 good time to review your health insurance coverage and choose the best option between your plan and your spouse’s plan. While you typically can’t switch plans outside of the enrollment period, marriage is considered a qualifying event that qualifies you for a “Special Enrollment Period” that typically gives you 60 days after the “life event” to make changes.
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.
5. 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 license. Once you have your new documents, make sure you’ve changed your name on all your banking, credit card and savings accounts.
6. TACKLE ESTATE PLANNING
“Until death do us part,” can, sadly, happen unexpectedly, and it’s why you shouldn’t avoid a discussion about estate planning. Having a will means that your assets will be divided up as you intended, which is especially important should you and your spouse perish together. 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.
7. PLAN YOUR FUTURE TOGETHER
With all the paperwork-y 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?!
Charting your future as a couple is incredibly gratifying, but these discussions will also serve a very practical purpose: These are life goals, but they are also financial ones. Your conversation will help you both to get on the same page about your financial priorities together. When you’ve built a vision for the future that excites you both, it’ll be much easier – and rewarding – to stick to a financial plan that gets you where you want to go. Of course, if you’ve got big dreams but the path forward is a little hazy, a financial advisor can help put the pieces together and design a plan that gets you to “happily ever after.”
With all this planning, don’t forget to live today! Take your new spouse out for an expensive dinner, see a show on Broadway, do something awesome to celebrate the beginning of your lives together. There’s a reason you got married! Get out there and enjoy the journey together.