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What To Know About Marrying Someone With No Money And How To Protect Your Finances

Rachel Cautero  |  March 27, 2024

Preparing to tie the knot is an exciting – and stressful – time. But should you be marrying someone with no money?

Planning to spend your life together with your partner is an exciting time. But it can be fraught with expectations and tough financial decisions and conversations.

Although marriage can be financially beneficial, sharing the wealth — and the debt, and the investment portfolio — can make you feel like you’re paying more than your fair share. Setting financial expectations from the start is important for protecting your assets in marriage. Relationships change if one partner comes into it with financial baggage.

So how do you protect yourself and your finances? Here’s what you need to know about marrying someone with no money (or limited money responsibilities).

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1. Start With an Honest Conversation

To protect yourself before marriage, sit down with your partner and have a candid conversation about money.“Before you wed, you should explore values,” says Lynn Ballou, Certified Financial Planner and regional director of EP Wealth Advisors in Lafayette, California. “[This includes] budgets, debt, lifestyle, retirement goals and plans, children and college, and so much more. It’s OK not to agree on everything.”If you are on opposite ends of the saving and spending spectrum, it could cause some tension and conflict down the road. Meet with a financial counselor to help start these conversations. Having a neutral third-party can help both of you work through these money discussions.Carla Dearing, CEO of online financial planning service SUM180, suggests asking several different questions of your soon-to-be spouse to get a more complete financial picture. Start by sharing your credit reports, she says.“Any joint account you open will [trigger] a credit report check for both you and your spouse,”she says. “If your spouse’s credit is too poor to use for a home or car loan, you may be tempted to take on those financial responsibilities on your own.” But be careful. Depending on where you live — should you face a divorce — you may be solely responsible for the debt owed on your home or car.”

Asking your potential partner if they have a lot of debt is another big one.

“Debt can put a big strain on a marriage,” Dearing says. “Legally, you’re not liable for debt your spouse had before you got married. But once you’re married, you will likely be involved in paying off your spouse’s debts. That’s why it’s important to be open with about how much you owe before you get married. You’re building trust and teamwork by deciding together how to handle debt that’s still on the books.”

2. Should I Insist on a Prenuptial Agreement?

Dearing says it depends on the situation.

“If you’re getting married for the first time and either you or your spouse have significant assets or debts, it can be a good idea to plan how to handle these if the marriage doesn’t work out,” she says. “Don’t think of a prenup as a negative. Entering married life with these decisions made beforehand may take some pressure off your relationship. It’ll let you focus on enjoying your life together.”

When a prenup comes into play is if there are children from previous relationships, Dearing says.

“It’s not about anticipating the failure of your marriage,” she says. “The context of a prenuptial agreement should be, ‘How do we protect and provide for our extended families?’”

In this case, the prenup ensures your surviving spouse doesn’t change your estate plan. It also makes sure that your property will pass along to your children from a previous relationship rather than to your new spouse. It can even allow you to waive rights to your spouse’s life insurance or retirement to make your children the beneficiaries, Dearing explains.

You can present it in a positive or inclusive way, like making it part of your joint estate plan. Just make sure you have your own attorney review your plans before you sign anything. But if you don’t have children from a previous relationship, a prenup is much less important. In some cases, it could be counterproductive. So evaluate each situation on a case-by-case basis.

“You and your fiancé should create a relationship with a trusted Certified Financial Planner who will help both of you pull together all the important pieces of financial life,” Ballou says. “That helps frame this conversation more in the context of all the things ‘we’ need to do.”

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3. Protect Your Assets

Keeping your assets safe and secure should be a priority before, during, and possibly after marriage.“You want to ensure your separate assets remain separate and that you protect your finances from future divorces [or] future access to someone who’s untrustworthy,” says Loretta Hutchinson, founder of Financial Divorce Plan LLC, and a Certified Financial Planner and certified divorce financial analyst. “You want to make sure that what you have acquired [before the marriage] stays separate. Every state is different on what this means. What I would recommend is keeping those assets in your name only. Once you start combining, they become marital assets.”Jennifer Kruger, branch manager of Fidelity Investments’ Park Avenue Investor Center, suggests focusing on the long view to start uniting your financial lives.Setting goals is an important step to take, Kruger notes. Whether these are joint financial goals or independent, it’s important to work toward a goal and set a plan. You can also review insurance policies, create a will, and update your beneficiaries. Having these tough financial discussions may seem unromantic, but it’s important to keep the big picture in mind.

“Differences in spending habits and financial goals are precursors to divorces — and one of the biggest reasons why people divorce,” Hutchinson says. “(You want it to be) the strongest possible start…so when challenges arise, you have already had these conversations and don’t have to start from square one. It doesn’t mean you don’t trust or love (your spouse.)”

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