Marriage legal changes you NEED to know about (in plain English, we promise!)

Guest post by The Fried Bride
Marriage legal changes you NEED to know about (in plain English, we promise!)
Real legal, that is…
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You're married! Now that you've gone from “Friends with Benefits” to “Couple Sharing Actual Legal Benefits” there is a lot to do to put your married house in order. Aside from your totally optional name change (and ensuring USPS has your new address), there are a number of tasks that should be completed within 30 days of your wedding. We're here to make it easy…

For most newly married couples, you may have already established your parents or children as the beneficiaries for your estate. Even if you've gone the extra mile and created a “Will” before this point, you need to update the beneficiaries for ALL potential sources of income individually with the relevant institutions to ensure a smooth transition of funds/ownership. Sorry, no one-stop shop, no single form that changes everything. I now pronounce you… about to do A LOT more paperwork.

You get the idea. But fear not, offbeat couples! Here is a handy chart of who EACH of you should update, and for what:

Who You Need to Update

Your Bank and/or Investment Group


Depending on the institution, you may need to update each individual account (checking, savings, etc.) with the beneficiary of your choice. Typically, joint accounts come with “Right of survivorship” for the other account owner automatically, but additional (and sometimes burdensome) documentation is required if you have any individual accounts that you want that person to inherit. Documents like a Power of Attorney aren't always sufficient. Check with your bank or credit union to be sure you have everything arranged the way you want it.

Who You Need to Update

Your 401k (via your employer)


Surprise! It's not just a regular account like those we mentioned before. Federal law in the U.S. actually mandates that your spouse be the beneficiary of your retirement account, and your Human Resources office will help you update this. If you DO NOT want your spouse to be the beneficiary, they may need to sign a waiver to this effect.

Who You Need to Update

Your Long term/Accident/Disability Insurance (via your employer, or the provider directly)


If you've contracted any additional life or care insurance plans, be sure to update the beneficiary for those plans with your employer. Nothing like losing your hand to an alligator on the job, and missing out on that sweet 60% of your regular pay after the fact.

Marriage legal changes you NEED to know about (in plain English, we promise!)
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Who You Need to Update

Your Life Insurance (via your employer, or the provider directly)


This is a no-brainer. Again, you don't have to designate your spouse as the beneficiary of your life insurance, but assuming it automatically defaults to them isn't always correct. Check with your employer or insurer to be certain you've filled out the correct paperwork.

Who You Need to Update

Your Health Insurance (via employer, or the state depending on whom you are insured by)


Before you get married, you should sit together and review each of your health plans or “Explanation of Benefits” documents from your respective employers. Take a look at your pay stub and consult with HR to see how much a single vs. married plan will cost you per paycheck—then select the insurance right for both of you. Remember that some benefits, like an HSA, are specific to individuals covered by high deductible plans; and these must be given up if your new spouse has an FSA. Sound complicated? It's not really, just take a breath, and take the time to figure things out sooner rather than later.

Who You Need to Update

Your Tax Filing Status (via your employer first, and also with the IRS or your accountant once you file for the tax year)


Your tax status for the year is based on your marital status as of Dec. 31st the year you file for. So if you're married as of Dec. 31st 2016, you will file as married person. You may want to update your “withholding status” to reflect this change and can do so by updating the Form W-4 with your employer.

Remember, even if you do not file your taxes as “Married-Filing Jointly” you will likely file as “Married-Filing Separately.” Married couples living in the same household cannot legally claim themselves as single or single heads of household if this is not the case. Consult your HR professional, accountant, and/or the resources available from IRS online. If one or more of you is foreign citizen married to a U.S. citizen, DEFINITELY look in advance for a tax professional to help you through your initial filing. Remember, it can take years for an audit to occur — and THAT MANY tax corrections at once can take a chunk out of that dream anniversary fund.

The good news: the temporary license you were probably issued after your ceremony should be sufficient to accomplish most (if not all) of these tasks. However, it's also good to exchange your Social Security Numbers, as well as copies of your Driver's License or Passport so each of you can make changes more easily without having your spouse present.

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Comments on Marriage legal changes you NEED to know about (in plain English, we promise!)

  1. I think the only thing I need to worry about is my bank, yay? No disability/life insurance for me, I don’t have a 401k, and we’re getting married after tax season. Oh and I will switch over to his “health insurance” since he’s military and I’m a part-time nothing in Medicaid.

  2. Remember brides, there are TWO tax statuses you need to be concerned with: the first is your annual filing status, which you primarily need to worry about during “tax season” if you are U.S. citizen. The second, however, is your “withholding” status, money that comes out of your paycheck throughout the year–which you may be able to leave as single. The time of year you get married may also impact how much is taken from your paycheck if you choose to change this status. Bottom line: talk with a professional if you are in doubt, and play with numbers for an exotic pre- or post-nuptial counseling session.

    Also, worth noting, if you are bringing children into your new family–remember to update your child’s school, doctor, and any other authorities you want your spouse to interact with.

  3. We’re going to change our names, but aren’t doing it immediately. Does anyone know if it better to take care of these things before the name-change or wait until after? Thanks! And this article was really helpful in compiling a list!

    • In theory, best to do it after–but depends on how long you want to wait. Depending on when you are married, some items must be completed within 30 days of your wedding date (like adding a spouse to your insurance in some cases) but your tax paperwork may come later at your convenience. A given bank probably doesn’t care what order you make the change in; though it may be easier to add them after a name change if it is a membership institution (where you may need to prove same address or relationship in order to join.)

      It’s great to ask these questions, because a lot of private/fee-based name change services may submit documents to all these institutions–but may not take into account individual business policies for name changes or account ownership.

    • This may seem macabre but it is a good idea to update any thing that you or your spouse may need access to in the event of your or your spouse’s death. If you have a 401K, pension, or life insurance get those done as soon as possible. Most likely it won’t be needed but you never know.

  4. We’re getting married exactly a month before tax day next year–but we both usually do our taxes well in advance. Does anyone know whether it would be more advantageous to do it before or after? Especially since he has family assets and we plan to continue to file separately.

    Please feel free to tell me I need to ask a professional 😛

    • If one of you has assets or income that put them in a different bracket, it could be more advantageous to do it before. If there are any refunds between you, that could be put towards savings or honeymoon expenses. If you have any childcare, home, or educational credits–filing jointly may actually be the more lucrative choice, but it’s not a straightforward tax software move. Doing it early just makes it one less thing to worry about close to your special day, especially if it’s already old hat to you both. BUT of course #askataxpro for tailored individual advice. If you already have a connection through a financial management company, ask for a referral or if they offer in-house tax services. For the extremely handy folks, the IRS has both withholding calculators, and you can find both Federal and State income tax worksheets online to try and predict the best situation for you.

      For people with little savings, small investment portfolios, or who are not claiming home ownership, childcare, health, or educational deductions–it is typically as easy as 20 minutes with an online tax preparer and your W-2’s. Final tip for other readers; don’t try to claim head of household if you don’t actually know what it means, and don’t do it without telling your partner 😀

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