Adam commented on my post about how we save 25% of our income. “I am just in the process of getting married, and learning about the whole process of combining our finances.”
To help Adam, and any other couple, here’s a quick outline of the process. My husband and I agreed that we would set up a joint checking account after we got married. We could have set it up earlier, but we wanted to wait until after we had the piece of paper just to be safe. When combining your finances, there are a few things you must do as soon as possible after the wedding, and a few you can save for later.
In most states, you can change your name on the marriage license. In some situations, you must file a name change petition later. I didn’t change my name, so I didn’t have that hassle. The process is straightforward if the wife switches from First Middle Maiden to First Middle Husband’s-last or First Middle Hyphenated-name. A name change petition may become involved if you want to change to First Maiden Husband’s-last, as many women do.
Whichever route you take, you must wait until you receive your marriage certificate to change your name on most accounts. If you change your name, order at least three extra copies of the certificate at the time you file the license. If you don’t change your name, one or two copies will do.
Driver’s License and Social Security
Your first step should be updating your driver’s license and social security file with your new name. You’ll also need to change your address with the DMV if you move after you marry. This process will take several weeks, so make sure you buy honeymoon tickets in your maiden name.
Joint Bank Accounts
Most banks don’t require you to provide a marriage certificate to set up a joint account. Simply go to the bank and tell them you want to change the names on the account. When we married, we decided to add me to his account and close my account because his account was drawn on a Southern California bank and mine was located in another part of the state.
Changing the name on your credit cards may require sending them a copy of your marriage certificate, but some will accept a copy of a driver’s license as proof. Ask if you can add your spouse as a co-owner of the account. Most will fax or email you a form to sign and return. I had a better credit history, so we made my husband co-owner of two of my cards and an authorized user on the third, because they only allow one owner. He cancelled many of his own cards.
If you plan to add your spouse to your plan and have employer-provided insurance, contact your HR department for the proper forms. If you have individual plans, like we did when we married, compare plans to find the new best rate for a joint health insurance account. We added my husband to my plan and chose a new deductible level. They didn’t require a marriage certificate because California recognizes domestic partnerships for all couples. Insurers in other states may have different requirements.
Once you marry, your spouse is automatically your life insurance beneficiary, as required by law, but you should contact your insurer to file an updated form with current information.
We already had auto insurance from the same company, but opted to combine our policies to get the two-car discount. This was the only account that required a copy of our marriage certificate, but the process was simple. They sent us forms that we returned with a copy of the certificate and a week later we received our new cards. If you renew every six months, consider waiting until the policy is about to make the switch easier.
Investment and Retirement Accounts
You can choose to merge your investment accounts, or hold them separately. Retirement accounts remain separate. In both cases, you should file updated forms designating your spouse as the beneficiary. If you don’t, the original party listed on your account will be the beneficiary after your death, regardless of any directions included in your will.
By law, your student loans cannot be merged. This is for your protection because student loan debts die with you, unless there is another name on the account.
Save money in a flash by switching to a family plan. You will have to go to your carrier’s local store to make the switch, but it’s easy once you get there.
If one of you owns a home, you may wish to add your new spouse to the title via a Quit Claim Deed or other title conveyance. Contact a real estate lawyer for guidance. Adding a spouse to your mortgage may require refinancing, so contact your bank for advice.
If you rent, you’ll need to add your spouse to the rental agreement. Contact your landlord to complete the process.
Be sure to add your spouse to any homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policies you have.
You can, if you wish, add your spouse to your cable, utility, and telephone accounts, but it’s not absolutely necessary. Most of these companies will speak to a spouse without having him or her on the account as long as the spouse has the account number.
This list of accounts seems like a lot of work, but it’s really not. Set aside an afternoon to make all the necessary calls, and prepare a form letter that you can customize. Some accounts should be updated immediately, but most of the rest can be tackled over the first few months of your marriage.