What Legally Changes After You Get Married?

November 23, 2020

We all know that your legal and tax status changes once you get married. But what does that actually mean and which documents are affected? Here’s how you can prepare for the big day (and your married life) by getting these important documents ready to store and share with your new spouse.

What Documents Do You Need to Update After Getting Married?

Here are just a few of the most important documents you’ll want to review now that you have a spouse:

  • Marriage license – This proves that you are legitimately married. If you haven’t done so already, you can get a marriage license application at your local county clerk’s office.
  • Driver’s license – You’ll need a new license if you have legally changed your name. Bring your marriage license.
  • Social Security account – Not only important because of your name change, but also so that your partner will be entitled to your benefits later on in life. Bring your marriage license.
  • Medical insurance – Spouses are always entitled to medical benefits if you have a health care plan through your employer. Do this immediately so that there is no gap in coverage.
  • Other HR documentation – Besides medical insurance, your human resources department may also have several other benefits (like a group life insurance policy) where your spouse will need to be added. 
  • Auto insurance – It's often cheaper for married couples to have joint insurance as opposed to two separate policies. Decide which one you’d both like to continue with and cancel the other.
  • Bank accounts – If you plan to combine finances, add each other as full owners to each account. Remember to also update the beneficiary information.
  • Credit cards – Similar to bank accounts, if you plan to use the same credit cards, add each other as authorized users.
  • Life insurance – If you’ve got private life insurance, not only will you want to update the beneficiary, but you may also want to reconsider or increase the face value of the policy.
  • Retirement plans – Update the designated beneficiaries.

What Legally Changes When You Get Married?

Marriage is not only a union of love. From the perspective of the courts, it's also a union of two people’s legal entities. Here’s what that means for you both:

Tax Filing Status

Married couples have two options when it comes to their tax filing status:

  1. Married filing jointly
  2. Married filing separately

Filing a joint return can be very advantageous for most people. Not only can you take a larger standard deduction, but it's less complicated than filing separately and may increase your chances of qualifying for certain tax credits.

In some special circumstances, married couples may find that filing separate returns works out to a larger tax refund. Most commercial tax filing software will run the calculations both ways to help you choose which option will provide the higher benefit.

Medical Rights and Coverage

Although some health care professionals may consult or defer to a spouse if there’s a medical emergency, most generally will not because of HIPAA laws. To be sure your partner can have access to your medical files, you’ll need to provide written authorization; either through a consent form or separate documentation.

Taking this a step further, you may want to appoint your spouse through what’s called a medical power of attorney. This will give your spouse total legal authority to make medical decisions on your behalf in the event that you cannot do so yourself.

Dependents

If one or both partners are bringing dependents (such as children) into the marriage, then the situation can become complicated. 

For instance, even though you’re obligated to provide food and shelter for them as their step-parent, you, unfortunately, cannot make medical or legal decisions for them (even simple things like signing permission slips for school). The only way you can officially have a say in such matters is to adopt your stepchildren as your own.

From a tax return perspective, additional dependents can be helpful because it can potentially increase the amount of your tax refund. However, if you share custody with an ex-spouse, then only one of you can claim the child according to the IRS. This will need to be worked out ahead of time.

Important Tax Documents for Newlywed’s

Because your filing status and rules change after you get married, nothing will feel quite as complicated as filing your taxes for the first time as a couple. Below are some of the documents you’ll need to consider and why.

What Do You Need When Filing as a Married Person for the First Time?

  • Your previous years’ income tax returns
  • W-2s showing how much money you both earned from your employers
  • Bank or investment statements showing any interest, dividends, or capital gains/losses (1099 forms)
  • Income earned outside of your job (such as from a side hustle)
  • Dependent information (if either of you have any children you can claim)
  • Mortgage documents stating the interest and property tax information. 
  • Proceeds from the sale of a property (if one of you sold your house before getting married).
  • Medical and child care expenses 
  • Charitable contributions
  • Unpaid tax debts or student loan defaults
  • Alimony or child support payments
  • Gambling wins or losses

How to Share Important Documents with Your Spouse

Now that you’re married, it will be more important than ever for the two of you to have access to the same files and information. Here’s how you can accomplish this:

Bank Accounts

If you’re planning on combining finances, then the two of you will need to be listed as account owners on your bank accounts. This will give each of you the same privileges to make deposits, withdrawals, and write checks for our expenses.

Once this is done, you can each download your bank’s app to your smartphone. This will give you both the real-time status of your account balance and any activity.

Passwords

Since each of you will need access to the same online accounts to check bank information and pay utilities, you may want to subscribe to a password manager. Services like 1Password, Bitwarden or Pillar Life's secure password manager can make it easy for both of you to securely share login information.

Shared Cloud Storage

As you acquire more documents, photos, and videos, you may also want to consider setting up a shared cloud storage space that you and your spouse can both use. Platforms like Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive will offer free accounts with limited space that can easily be upgraded for just a few bucks per month.

Alternatively, couples can also use a service like Pillar Life to easily share documents and passwords. Thanks to multiple layers of industry-leading digital protection, you can be confident that your information will be safe and secure between just the two of you. Sign up for your free 14-day trial and see how safe and easy it is to keep everything in one secure that you can share with your new spouse.

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