Getting Married? Here's How to Merge Your Complex Assets
Have you talked with your partner about big financial assets, like property and large stock portfolios? Here's what you need to do before you say "I do."
Planning to get married? Hopefully you've talked about money.
Never mind the traditional conversations about whether you should have joint bank accounts — what about more complex assets, like stocks, property and who owns your grandpa's restored Packard?
When you've been fortunate enough to accumulate assets before getting married, you may bring a substantial amount of cash to the relationship.
According to Fidelity's 2021 Couples and Money Study, those who communicate well about money are more likely to:
- Expect to live a comfortable lifestyle in retirement.
- Rate their household's financial health as excellent or very good.
- Discuss finances together at least monthly.
- Say that money is not their greatest relationship challenge.
Let's walk through some tips about merging your complex assets.
How to Merge Your Complex Assets
When you're planning to get married, should you continue to invest the same way — 100% stocks all the way, plus keep the valuable paintings in your collection? Before you start talking about adding your fiance to the deed on your $2 million home, you may want to consider having some larger conversations about handling money first. Let's walk through some tips.
Tip 1: Communicate what you will each bring to the table.
You want to know the ins and outs of what your soon-to-be spouse will bring to the table, including all of his or her assets, debt and more.
For example, if your fiancee can prove she has $15,000 in a 401(K) and $3,000 in a Roth IRA and you're bringing a stock portfolio worth $1 million to the relationship, you may be at odds right away.
Get to the innards of the story. What is her plan for building her assets? If she's 45, what's held her up? You want to lay it all out on the table ahead of time so you aren't blindsided by the fact that you're bringing a disparate amount to the relationship.
Don't just talk about intangible assets, such as the amount in your portfolio — also discuss tangible assets, such as your home or hers.
Tip 2: Understand your partner's money habits.
How does your partner handle money? Does she pay her bills the moment they come in or does he pay them at the last minute? Are you both generally savers or spenders? Learn about each other's financial quirks. If your partner has money fears or things he just can't resist buying (like expensive watches) you'll need to know in advance.
Tip 3: Talk about your values.
You may want to talk about your values and what money can do to help you achieve them. For example, let's say you value security. Let your partner know how money can help you become secure in your financial future together.
Let your values drive your money goals. For example, let's say that valuing security means that you aim to save $5,000 per month and put it in a stock fund and build an emergency fund together.
What are some other values? Family, personal growth, career, physical health, enjoyment in life, healthy relationships, etc. Identifying your values early on together can help you pin down the right money goals for your future.
Here's another example: If you value enjoyment in life, you may pinpoint that you both want an oceanfront vacation home in Florida. Knowing that, you can put together a plan and identify the right goals to get there.
Tip 4: Start small.
You don't need to jump into homeownership the second you get married. Putting both of your names on the title of a home can seem like a momentous step, particularly if you're both used to years of managing your finances on your own.
It's kind of like doing a Couch to 5K. You'd never consider jumping right up off the couch and running two miles, would you? That'd be a great way to give up fast. Instead, you want to grow together financially.
You may want to start by opening a joint checking account, then a car, then a home, then investment properties. (Just like starting with a comfortable 30-minute walk as the first step in a Couch to 5K program.)
Tip 5: Consider a prenuptial agreement.
There's nothing romantic about a prenuptial agreement, or prenup. However, this written contract lists all of the property and debt each person owns and specifies the rights of each individual if your relationship ends.
While it's true that many wealthy people adopt prenups to protect their assets, those with a number of modest assets also use them. You can use a prenup to protect assets by passing them to children from a prior marriage, clarify financial rights and responsibilities during your marriage, bypass arguments in the case of divorce and receive protection from debts.
Tip 6: Talk about your end goal.
Where do you want to end up financially at the end of your lives together? Do you want to retire happily on a Caribbean island at 60? Continue working and living in your hometown until you're 75?
Consider your values in relation to your end goal. If you like mountains and your honey likes the beach, you might be at odds about where you both want to go in retirement. Get on the same page early on and realize that that goal could change as you grow older — you might want to follow your kids around instead!
Tip 7: Get help.
You may be super resistant to sharing everything, and that's okay. You can keep everything separate if you want. Just know what that means, financially and legally. You can contact a lawyer and financial advisor to help you decide how you'll fully merge your assets (or not) and make sure you'll hit your goals in the process. (And in the meantime, you can figure out who gets full ownership of your vintage Corvette.)
Communicate First, Merge Later
Only by communicating will you successfully commingle your assets. Begin with the end in mind and consider your values to make sure you're achieving as much as possible on your financial journey together. Finally, communicate honestly with your partner about your wants and your needs in order to feel completely at ease going into your own version of a financial partnership.