Consider a Prenup Before Saying I Do

"Although much publicity surrounds premarital agreements of high-profile couples, ... a premarital agreement is appropriate for anyone with property, debt, a degree, a certificate or license, an established career, a business or professional practice, a creative product, expectations of inheritance or other receipt of assets, past matrimonial experience, or children," writes Erika L. Haupt in "For Better, For Worse, for Richer, for Power: Premarital Agreement Case Studies," which appeared in the spring 2002 Real Estate, Probate and Trust Journal.

Sam and Sally may not fit into any of Ms. Haupt’s categories, but many, if not most, couples do. According to Ms. Haupt, prenuptial agreements make sense for:

  • David and Rebecca, a professional couple in the mid-30s, marrying for the first time with no expectation of children, but seeking "’to secure their present and future earnings’" and who agree to divide all marital property equally in the event of divorce, to forgo any claims of alimony or support, and waive all other rights state law gives surviving spouses;
  • Robert, the worker supporting Susan, a student, who aims at a high-paying career in medicine with the expectation of a shared high-income career later, who agree that in the event of a divorce Robert receives a lump sum based on the three calendar years prior to their divorce and then, in exchange waives all claims to his contributions to her medical education and practice;
  • Jonathan, who brings $90,000 in student loan and credit card debt to his marriage to Janet, who wants assurance that these obligations will be met with Jonathan’s separate property and that their income and earnings after they marry remain the separate property of each of them;
  • Henry and Martha, two middle-age millionaires with five adult children between them, who want assurances that in the event of death the bulk of their respective estates pass to their own children;
  • Elaine, a divorced woman with two young children, and Frank, the never-married owner of a hardware store who wants additional children when she seeks protection if the marriage crashes;
  • Steven, a young man with a minority interest in a family business whose father wishes to protect the company from the possible claims of Marsha, his future daughter in law, in the event of death or divorce;
  • Liza, a sculptor, and Randall, who is the beneficiary of several family trusts that provide his primary income and who stands in line to receive a sizable inheritance when she is worried that their divorce or his death will leave her destitute.

Discussing a prenuptial agreement with a spouse-to-be serves as a way of bringing both partners up to speed about the finances of the marriage. Talking about money before cutting the wedding cake may seem unromantic, but being able to sit down with a future spouse and discuss future "financial plans and expectations for the relationship will lead to a more solid foundation ... than simply expecting ... love to take care of everything."

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