Love, Relationships and Finance: Marriage vs. Money pt. 3

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Debts were mentioned earlier. Am I liable for debts my spouse incurred before we got married?

No. You don’t marry debt. But as soon as you commingle your assets with your spouse’s, any joint account you set up becomes fair game for prior creditors. You can get around this law in certain states by keeping or opening a bank ac count in your own name, which creditors theoretically can’t touch. Even so, the IRS has the power to put a lien on a refund due when you file a joint tax return. So your spouse’s prior tax liens are the scariest debts to marry.

Am I liable for debts incurred after our marriage that are only in my spouse’s name?

You may be. It depends on where you live, but in most states you and your spouse are financially responsible for each other. If your spouse can’t pay his debts, creditors will try to force you to pay, and you’ll have to go to some lengths (and expense) to prove you’re not liable.

What happens if my spouse files for bankruptcy?

If you were legally married when your spouse’s debts were incurred, creditors may be able to come after you even after bankruptcy has been filed -- even if you two are now divorced. More over, if you are both deemed liable for the debt, your spouse’s discharge of the debt in bankruptcy court will not relieve you of the debt, which, believe it or not, can show up as a flag on your credit report. The obligation to share in a spouse’s debt is a major risk of marriage.

What does the marital contract say about the illness or death of a spouse, and about divorce?

It says a lot. In case of serious illness, the marriage contract gives you the right to make decisions about your spouse’s medical care if he or she is not competent to make those decisions. In the case of a spouse’s death, the marriage contract may include a legal obligation by your spouse to share his or her estate with you (and vice versa). Many states allow a spouse to take “a forced share,” meaning a set amount every spouse is entitled to by law, regardless of a deceased spouse’s wishes. The amount varies, but it can be up to one-half of the estate. You have the right to retirement and government benefits based on your spouse’s contributions -- including disability payments, income from various pensions, and Social Security. In the event of a divorce, you have the right to claim a share of the property and in come you and your spouse accumulated during marriage, and in some cases, you may be entitled to half of all combined joint assets.

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Monday, May 5, 2008 10:45