10 Financial and Legal Moves For Couples

BOSTON (TheStreet) -- As couples across the nation pledge their commitment to each other this month, they may be thinking more about Cupid than their CPA.

But Valentine's Day may actually be an ideal time to go beyond chocolates and Champagne and put your money where your mouth is, putting a financial plan to work alongside your decision to commit (whether or not that involves a ring).

Anyone contemplating a marriage should be mapping out a sensible future at the same time.

Rest assured we are not about to suggest handing your loved one term life insurance in lieu of roses -- and the debate over a pre-nup can be waged another day. If you think your love is here to stay, young couples owe it to themselves to map out a sensible future. Long-standing relationships can also benefit from a financial checkup to make sure all is in order. There are plenty of financial and legal decisions that can be easy to put off, or forgotten, until they come back to haunt you.

If you do take the matrimonial plunge, be aware that no matter what date you set for this year means that, in the eyes of the IRS, you are considered legally wed for the entire, current tax year. Place the ring at 11:59 p.m. Dec. 31 and, in the taxman's eyes, it is no different than if you had done it as 12:01 a.m. Jan. 1. Though you always have the option of filing taxes separately, to reap the full benefit of a joint filing you may want to make sure you and your significant other have talked over any potential tax issues that could be an unwelcome surprise.

If you are changing your name, be sure to notify the Social Security Administration, the Department of Motor Vehicles and your employer.

It is also important for young couples to talk openly about your financial past. If you've already had that conversation about past boyfriends and girlfriends, take the same approach by explaining the "what was I thinking" pairing with a bad boy of a credit card or the stalking tendencies of a loan that just won't go away. If there is the chance that you'll someday have a matching his and her's credit score, you owe it to each other to be upfront and honest. Request a fresh copy of each of your credit reports, and do so every year, to check for errors.

If you are moving toward a wedding or civil union, take the time to review your workplace benefits. Find out whether your partner is (or isn't) included for such things as health, dental and life insurance, then determine which of you has the better plan for each of these needs. Take the steps needed to transition accordingly so you maximize the benefits without duplicating coverage and sending more than you have to.

Make sure to update beneficiary information on life insurance policies as well as for your IRAs, 401(k) and other stock, bond or mutual fund portfolios. Create or update an estate plan.

"If you decide to name someone other than your spouse as beneficiary on your qualified retirement plan at work, the law requires your spouse to acknowledge your decision in writing," advises Rande Spiegelman, vice president of financial planning for the Schwab ( SCHW) Center for Financial Research. "Nonretirement bank accounts, brokerage accounts and real or personal property titled in both your names as joint tenants with right of survivorship will pass to the surviving spouse outside of the probate -- review community-property laws, if they apply in your state, and be sure to incorporate all titling decisions into your overall estate plan. If you keep separately titled accounts and want to avoid probate, consider a POD payable on death -- typically available for bank accounts or TOD transfer on death -- available for brokerage accounts designation naming your spouse as the beneficiary."

Spiegelman advises talking to an attorney or CPA about the best way to title accounts and "recorded property," such as motor vehicles and real estate, based on your preferences as well as your state's laws (for example, common law vs. community property).

"Also consider durable powers of attorney and health care so each of you can make financial and medical decisions for the other in the case of an incapacitating injury or illness," he says.

-- Written by Joe Mont in Boston.

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Joe Mont.

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